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Is Ukraine's digital census enough for understanding demographic situation?

Author : Iryna Shostak

Source : 112 Ukraine

According to the results of estimating Ukraine’s population, 37 million 289 thousand people live in the country as of January 2020
14:00, 27 January 2020

Open source

Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Dmytro Dubilet assures that according to the results of estimating Ukraine’s population, 37 million 289 thousand people live in the country as of January 2020. The published results can be interpreted in different ways. But before talking about the significance of this figure in the context of making power decisions, it’s worth distinguishing between such concepts as “census” and “population estimation,” as well as understanding why and why such research is actually needed.

The first and perhaps the last traditional All-Ukrainian population census was conducted in 2001. Then the result of the study revealed 48 million 457 thousand people. Percentages were also established with respect to age, language, national composition of the population, level of education, and even distribution by marital status. This cannot be said about the released results. What then is the novelty and benefit of this study?

Census vs. Population Estimates: Pros and Cons

The first thing to note, population estimation is not an alternative to the traditional population census.

It should be understood that we are talking about two completely different activities. Indeed, an estimate of the population gives only an approximate determination of the number of the population. While the traditional census is a more complex and massive system of periodic population counting with a detailed description of various characteristics. In particular, this is information on demographics, socioeconomic characteristics, housing stock and housing conditions of the population. Another important advantage of traditional research is also international recognition.

In contrast to the population census, the population estimation mechanism cannot boast of a number of criteria that simply cannot be investigated, even despite the 3 available estimation methods: combined (data from mobile operators + data from a statistical survey of households + data from registers), combined (data from the age and sex structure of the population + data registers) and registry.

Related: Eastern Europe experiencing deep demographic crisis

Estimated population size:

  • significantly simplifies the information collection system (no need to hire a large number of temporary workers for a relatively short period);
  • reduces the time of data collection and processing (2 months compared with 1 year of the traditional census);
  • potentially covers of all segments of the population, regardless of social status and wealth;
  • can be carried out when necessary, not once every 10 years (on the recommendation of the UN, a population census should be carried out every 10 years);
  • reduces the risks of disclosing confidential data (in a traditional study, such risks exist);
  • It does not require budgetary costs (compared with 140 million USD for the census).

Perhaps the last aspect plays an almost decisive role in the emergence of thoughts about changing research methods. For example, about 200 million UAH was spent on the preparation and conduct of the first All-Ukrainian census in 2001 (the exchanging rate was 5 UAH/USD), 3.4 billion UAH was allocated from the budget. Against the background of such numbers, estimating the population seems to be not such a bad idea.

But can the data obtain through population estimates replace the array of information that the census provided? At a press conference on the issue of estimating the population, Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Dubilet noted that these data are really enough for making policy decisions. Oleksiy Kushch, financial analyst and expert at the GROWFORD Institute, does not agree with this opinion, noting that:

Firstly, the census is not only the number but also the social, economic and demographic profiles of the population. These data can then be used not only in economic policy, but also social, cultural, informational. For example, a census helps in creating a database for population policy:

"Now we are in a demographic pit and it is important for us to know the real demographic structure of the population and its key trends," Kushch says.

Related: Ukraine heads for perfect storm of demographic decline

Dubilet notes that if one of the institutions for the implementation of his policy would need information that is obtained through the census, point studies will be carried out. According to the minister, even in this way, these studies will be faster and cheaper.

Secondly, according to the expert, the figure of 37 million 289 thousand people is not representative, since it does not take into account seasonal migration:

“Ukraine does not only have permanent migration (more than 9 months abroad), but also a colossal seasonal migration (2-3 months). It affects the economic potential of the country. And of December 1, seasonal migration was not taken into account, because all agricultural works were completed, people were returning home, preparing for the holidays. It’s a very conditional date. If the study was conducted as of June 1, the figure would be lower."

Dubilet also talked about a trial population census, conducted in the Obolonsky district of Kyiv and in the part of the Kyiv region. According to the minister, every 4th respondent did not open the door, so it is difficult to talk about the accuracy of this method.

Also, the minister noted: “We used three methods. All of them gave approximately the same result with a difference of 2.86%. This is a very acceptable result, given the timing. I believe that there are almost no managerial decisions - in government or in the private sector - that would require greater accuracy. It’s also important to consider that the traditional population census is not less, but possibly a big mistake.”

Related: Ghost voters: Why Ukraine's authorities are afraid of the population census

Does Ukraine need a census/population estimate?

In discussing the options for collecting information about the population and their accuracy, it’s worth talking about whether the population census is really an effective mechanism for planning high-quality power decisions?

 “If we plan the development of the country, we formulate certain economic programs, including forecasts on the distribution of productive forces in the economy, and the attraction of foreign investment, we need to understand the human capital in the country,” Kushch states. According to him, human capital is one of the main components of all macroeconomic models and production functions. All these functions and models take into account the presence of human capital, therefore, if the government does not focus on the amount of human capital in the country's economy, it will not be able to qualitatively model and predict development prospects, develop economic models on the basis of which this development will be carried out.

However, at the same time, the expert advises not to exaggerate the importance of the study. In his opinion, these or those results do not yet affect the quality of power decisions: “We have no models and the development of the economy is in the format of the controlled chaos. That is, these are chaotic movements of market mechanisms that the state is trying to administer with the help of then administrative leverage.”

Dubilet said that he would defend his position on replacing the census with an estimate of the number. In particular, he has already initiated a reduction in the budget allocated for the census (from 140 million USD to 57 million USD), noting on his Facebook page: “A census is an important event. However, we have a feeling that if we used this format, it would be an impermissible luxury for Ukraine.”

Related: Over 37 million people live in controlled territories of Ukraine, - latest official census

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