only once, and in the right place, is crucial. Yet the ideal goal—unequivocally linking each person’s census record to a single specific geographic location—is difficult to achieve in practice. Accordingly, the census relies on a set of residence rules to define what “in the right place” means for various census respondents, so that their census returns can be accurately tabulated. Because they are meant to establish the “correct” location of a person in the census context, residence rules can help alleviate problems of duplication; however, as we will describe, residence rules alone can not solve all problems of census error.


As they have developed over time, the residence rules for the decennial census are a formal list of clarifications and interpretations, indicating where people in various residence situations should be counted in the census. In recent censuses, the actual list of residence rules has been an internal Census Bureau document, although a somewhat edited version of the rules was posted on the Census Bureau Web site during the 2000 census.1 The rules were also incorporated in some form into the training materials for census enumerators. The formal residence rule list is used to answer questions, both inside and outside the Census Bureau, on residence questions (U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2004).

To understanding residence rules, it is important to remember what the residence rules are not:

  • Most fundamentally, the residence rules are not the specific instructions on the census questionnaire—the guidance to census respondents on who should be included or excluded on the census form, such as those on the 2000 census questionnaire (see Figure 2-1). Confusion on this point may arise because the instructions and questions on the census form are the general public’s primary point of interaction with the census residence rules. However, the instructions are only an extract from the full set of residence rules.

  • Residence rules are not the link between a housing unit and a specific geographic location; rather, they provide the link between an individual person (and data about that person, on the questionnaire) and a specific housing unit. The specific geographic referencing between housing units and geographic locations is done through the Census Bureau’s


The presence of these rules online was indicated in a press release detailing the mass mailing of census questionnaires: “a complete set of residency rules telling where students, nursing home residents, military personnel, ‘snowbirds’ and others are counted can be found on the Census Bureau’s Internet site at” (the link was still functional as of 6/1/06); see U.S. Department of Commerce (2000).

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