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The U.S. Census Bureau said it would release the results of the 1940 census in April. While I only have access to the types of questions they asked on the census, they still paint a picture of a simpler — but perhaps more inconvenient — time.
In 1940, there were 37.2 million housing units counted in the census. In 2010, that number was much larger — 131.7 million. And though housing has ballooned, the 2010 census was much less concerned about it than the 1940 census.
1940 was the first year the bureau included the first census of housing. They asked 31 questions to ascertain characteristics of dwellings, which included refrigeration equipment, whether or not there was a radio in the house, the presence of flush toilets and outhouses, whether principal lighting equipment was electric, gas or kerosene and whether the dwelling had running water.
Compare that to 2010, when there were only two questions asked on housing: whether the home was owned or rented, and whether the respondent stayed or lived somewhere else. By now, I suppose it should be assumed that the vast majority of respondents have a flush toilet. Though the bureau does follow up with more housing questions in a separate survey called the American Community Survey.
Full results of the 1940 census will be released April 2, and I’m pretty excited to see the difference. In 1940, the depression was just coming to a close and the country was beginning to see some stability. It may be an interesting comparison to 2012, when the world is — hopefully — also beginning to regain its footing.