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Census Bureau will keep marriage questions after all
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Questions on marital status from the American Community Survey will be kept afterall. - photo by Lois M. Collins
The U.S. Census Bureau has reversed itself on a plan to drop questions about marriage, death of a spouse and divorce from its American Community Survey. Academics and others had protested the proposed elimination of the questions as having a chilling effect on the ability to study trends impacting the American family.

The series of questions are important for researchers and others. "The surveys annually updated demographic, social, economic and housing estimates help guide the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds, and are widely used by government officials, businesses, researchers and advocacy groups," D'Vera Cohn explained in a Pew Research Center piece. "But some in Congress criticize the survey as overly intrusive, and have proposed eliminating it, which is one reason for the bureaus review of the questions."

The bureau announced its reversal in the Federal Registry last month, noting it had received more than 1,300 objections to removing questions about marital history. It also said that researchers in particular were concerned the removal would impact ability to study family formation and stability; marriage and divorce trends; how marriage impacts earnings, education and employment; how marriage affects the well-being of children; same-sex marriages, civil unions and partnerships; and how policy changes impact marriage.

Cohn wrote that "the bureau also is exploring whether some questions such as those on marriage and divorce could be asked less frequently to ease the burden on respondents, while still providing enough data to be useful to users. Bureau officials say they will consider whether those questions could be asked every other year or every third year, or asked of only some respondents each year."

The American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau has been under fire for some time, as the Deseret News National edition reported in December.

In 2012, a New York Times article called the survey possibly the "most important government function youve never heard of," with a history dating to the 1950s, and said it "tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on."

The Times article came out at a time after the House voted to eliminate the survey entirely. The bill's sponsor called the survey too intrusive. Ultimately, the move to drop the survey went nowhere.

The registry notice concluded: "We will continue to look for other opportunities to reduce respondent burden while maintaining survey quality. Taken together, these measures will make a significant impact on reducing respondent burden in the ACS."