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Differences Between Census and Sampling

By
Njunga Gilson
BCOM-MR/15/01/021

Lilongwe, Malawi

Date: 9th May 2016.

Census and sampling are two methods of collecting data. Census and sampling do
differ in many ways. They can differ in definition or in other ways like how much they cost
and how much time is required to conduct them. A census is the procedure of systematically
acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. Census is
mostly used in national population and housing censuses but it can also be used in
agriculture, business, and traffic censuses. On the other hand, sampling is concerned with the
selection of a subset of individuals which is usually a sample unit from within a statistical
population to estimate characteristics of the whole population, (Priscilla S. and Dillman A.
D., 1995. 32). The other differences have been described below.
On terms of reliability, census can be considered to be a more accurate way of
collecting data than sampling. This is so because in a census, every item in the population is
studied unlike in sampling where only part of a population is investigated or studied. Data
from the census is reliable and accurate. In sampling there is or can be a margin of error in
the data obtained. These errors are called sampling errors. Sampling errors can be due to
selection bias or random sampling error. In selection bias the true selection probabilities
differ from those assumed in calculating the results. In random sampling error random
variations occur in the results due to the fact that the elements in the sample are being
selected at random, (Breiman L., 1994. 458-475).
Census and sampling can also be differentiated in terms of time. Census is very timeconsuming. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that a traditional population
and housing census involves a lot of work. It requires mapping an entire country, figuring out
what technologies should be employed, compiling hundreds of thousands or millions of
completed questionnaires, analyzing and disseminating the data and the likes. All these tasks
are time consuming. On the other hand, sampling is faster and quicker. This is so because in
sampling only part of the population is considered and not the whole population. This means
that there are less individuals or sample units to be studied thus making it quicker comparing
to census, (United Nations Population Fund, 2015)
Cost can also be used to differentiate sampling and census. This means that on can be
cheaper or more expensive than the other. By looking at sampling and census it can be easily

noted that census is expensive whilst sampling is inexpensive. A census is more expensive
because more data is involved. To collect and analyze the data, more man power, computers
and other tools are needed. Man power, computers and the other tools for conducting a census
are not cheap and to obtain more of them, it makes the census to be more expensive. On the
other hand, sampling is less expensive because less man power and other tools and equipment
are needed, (Chawla D., et al. 2013. 3).
Convenience is also another differentiating factor. Census is not very convenient as
the researcher or researchers have to allocate a lot of effort or man power in collecting data
about the population. On the other hand, sampling is the most convenient method of
obtaining data about the population because less effort or man power is used in collecting
data, (Nedha D., 2015).
Another difference is that census can only be used when the population or universe is
finite whilst sampling can be used when the population is finite and also infinite. A
population is called finite if it is possible to count its individuals. When it is not possible to
count the units contained in the population, the population is called an infinite population,
(Varalakshmi V., et al., 2005. 12-13).
Another difference is that sampling can be used when an item or unit is destroyed
under investigation whilst census cannot be used when an item or unit is destroyed under
investigation. This shows that sampling can be used on items that can be easily destroyed,
(Varalakshmi V., et al., 2005. 15).
Sampling is more suitable if population is homogeneous in nature whilst census is
more suitable if the population is heterogeneous in nature. Homogenous population consists
of elements of the same or similar kind or nature whilst heterogeneous is consisting of
elements that are not of the same kind or nature, (Kapahi R., 2014. 6).
The last difference is that of time of occurrence. A census is usually done periodically
like that of human population which in Malawi is done after every 10 years. On the other
hand, sampling can be done at any time. Sampling can be done if the next census is far away.

In summary, the differences between census and sampling have been described. These
differences have been based on time, cost, convenience and the likes. Through knowing these
differences one can know more about census and sampling.

References List
Priscilla S. and Dillman A. D., 1995. How to Conduct Your Own Survey: Leading
Professional Give You Proven Techniques for Getting Reliable Results. United States.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2015. Census. Available at:
http://www.unfpa.org/census. Accessed on: 13th April 2016.
Breiman L., 1994. The 1991 Census Adjustment: Undercount or Bad Data? Statistics
Science.
Chawla D., Chichra S. and Pandey V., 2013. Census Vs Sampling. India.
Nedha D., 2015. Difference Between Census and Sampling: Census vs Sampling. Available
at: http://www.differencebetween.com/differencebetweencensusandsampling/.
Accessed on: 13th April 2016.
Kapahi R., 2014. Difference Between Census and Sampling. India.
Varalakshmi V., Suseela N., Sundara, G. G., Ezihilarasi S. and Indrani B., 2005. Statistics: