Why use census data? Should you use census data?

Last Updated on August 1, 2020 by Ayla Myrick

Census data are frequently used in health research to investigate contextual correlates of health outcomes. Some of the variables available in the census include socioeconomic and demographic measures of the geographic area, including median household income, education, and racial distribution.  

Census data representative of multiple geographic “levels” or areas are typically available, and include the state, zip code, census block, and census tracts. These data can be integrated with other data sources to examine associations and correlations of contextual characteristics with health (as stated above), crime/violence related outcomes (when combined with other data sources), and other outcomes of interest to the researcher.

One could consider using census data if there is interest in the relationships between aggregate conditions, or data that are representative of a larger geographic group, in relation to a particular health outcome.

Census data are publicly accessible from government based web pages, and can offer a distinct contextual perspective for a given study. The data would need to be linked to the health data of interest to you, which may involve a bit of work, but the potential to address contextual determinants of health may be worth the effort!

Ayla Myrick