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Family listens to radio
A family listens to the radio in the 1930s. The Census Bureau
collected radio ownership data in 1930 on the population schedule.
In 1940, the inquiry was part of the "housing census."
Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data about the characteristics of the nation's housing in the 19th century. In 1940, the number of inquiries expanded to 31 questions using a separate "housing schedule." This "Census of Housing" included inquiries that collected information about the home's bathroom facilities, water supply, heating equipment, mortgage or rent, and even if the residents had access to a radio. Government housing programs, along with marketing firms had successfully lobbied for the expansion of data.

The Census Bureau also collected housing-related data as part of its economic censuses. In response to the post-World War I building boom, the Census Bureau began the census of construction industries; in 1950, the residential finance survey began to collect data on mortgage debt to begin assessing the effectiveness of the residential finance system; and in 1973, collaboration between the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development resulted in the American Housing Survey.

The Census Bureau continued to collect data related to housing via the decennial census' long-form questionnaire until Census 2000, after which these inquiries were collected by the American Community Survey. Additionally, many other demographic and economic surveys collect data related to housing that are vital components in the compilation of data for key economic indicators and help us better understand the nation's economic well-being and demographic trends.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 05, 2022