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At the time of the 2010 census, there were approximately 8 million people living in group quarters, representing 2.6 percent of the total U.S. population. This ratio has remained relatively constant over the past few decades.

Unlike most surveys that limit their target population to households (people who live in housing units) and sometimes noninstitutional group quarters, the goal of the American Community Survey (ACS) is to represent all U.S. residents. Samples of most types of group quarters have been included in the ACS since 2006, the second year of the survey’s existence. For practical reasons and in some cases because of privacy concerns, the ACS does exclude a few of the less common GQ types (for example, domestic violence shelters, soup kitchens, regularly scheduled mobile food vans, targeted nonsheltered outdoor locations, commercial maritime vessels, natural disaster shelters, and dangerous encampments), but it remains the most comprehensive survey in the United States in terms of this target population, aside from the decennial census itself. It is also important to note that ACS estimates of the total population are controlled to the Population Estimates Program (PEP) estimates of the total GQ population, including residents of group quarters that are not included in the ACS (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Box 2-1 describes the group quarters that were included in the 2010 ACS.

Half of GQ residents live in institutional settings. Institutional facilities are group quarters that provide formally supervised custody or care to inmates or patients. Examples of institutional group quarters are correctional facilities and nursing homes. The remainder of the GQ population lives in noninstitutional settings, such as student housing and military quarters. Table 2-1 shows the GQ population by type of group quarters based on the 2010 census enumeration.


Although the number of GQ residents is small relative to the total population, the GQ population is “lumpy” in several senses of the term. First, individual GQ facilities (e.g., student dormitories, correctional facilities, nursing homes) are unusually homogenous regarding basic demographic characteristics. Hypothetically, communities with identical total GQ populations may differ considerably depending on the types of facilities existing within their boundaries. Second, although some jurisdictions have very few GQ residents, the population of other jurisdictions may be dominated by a large GQ facility, such as a university or a federal or state prison. Third, the GQ population is systematically different from the household population in terms of basic demographic characteristics. Table 2-2 shows the characteristics of the GQ population by sex and age group. Table 2-3 summarizes the main characteristics that tend to differ between group quarters and the household population.

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