Global Population Data Accuracy Ratings

World Economics Research Programme

Published: December 2019

The accuracy of population data varies widely across countries. The most comprehensive data on the number of people living in a territory and their demographic profile, a vital component for public sector economic and social planning and also for private sector needs, is only available from the result of a census. National statistics offices produce only estimates of total population numbers and the demographic breakdown for the intervening years. The accuracy of these estimates depends on the coverage of the last census and the elapsed time since the census, the data and assumptions about births, deaths and net migration and a host of other factors related to the capacity of the national statistical office and its ability to carry out its functions unimpaired by political interference. There are a number of problems which limit the accuracy of these between census population estimates. Unfortunately, national censuses require a large amount of resources to carry out and often vary in accuracy even for developed countries. In many developing countries there are large gaps in terms of the years between holding a census. This means that population estimates made become less and less accurate as time elapses.

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