Previous censuses in Estonia

Between 1782 and 1858, seven population counts were carried out in Estonia. These can be considered a precursor to modern population censuses.

In 1863, statistical committees were set up in the Estonia and Livonia Provinces, which were then administrative units of the Russian Empire. These committees decided that censuses should be carried out according to principles approved at international conferences. The first census based on these principles was conducted in the towns of Livonia with 3 March 1867 as census day. At the time, the Livonia Province extended to the southern half of modern-day Estonia and thus included the towns of Pärnu, Tartu, Valga, Viljandi and Võru.

16 November 1871 was the census day for the population census conducted in Tallinn by the statistical committee of the Estonia Province.

The statistical committees of the Estonia and Livonia Provinces carried out a coordinated, simultaneous census on 29 December 1881. This can be considered the first population census covering the entire territory of Estonia, although it did not include the town of Narva (then a part of the St Petersburg Province) and Petserimaa (or Pechorsky region, then a part of the Pskov Province).

The first full census in the Russian Empire was conducted as at 28 January 1897 (according to the Old Style calendar).

The First World War and its aftermath had a great impact on the population figure and composition in Estonia. The new independent state of Estonia needed basic data on the population within the borders established by the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920. The State Statistical Central Bureau carried out a population census as at 28 December 1922, whereas residential buildings and dwellings were also enumerated in the census.

The next population census was planned for 1930, following international recommendations, but it was postponed due to the economic crisis and financial difficulties and took place on 1 March 1934.

The questionnaires of the 1922 and 1934 censuses were mostly the same and fairly thorough, suiting the circumstances in Estonia but also following international recommendations.

The events of 1939–1941 had a profound influence on the population figure and composition in Estonia. Therefore, the German occupation regime organised a population count using a census programme that consisted of seven questions, with 1 December 1941 as the reference date.

After the Second World War, there were four population censuses in Estonia as part of the Soviet Censuses on these reference dates: 15 January 1959, 15 January 1970, 17 January 1979 and 12 January 1989. The questions asked in these censuses were basically the same, resulting in comparable data.

In 1959, each respondent had to answer 15 questions in addition to providing their address data. In 1970, each respondent answered 11 questions and 25% of the permanent residents were asked seven additional questions. In 1979, there were again 11 standard questions, while 25% of the resident population were asked five additional questions. In the 1989 census, all residents were asked 13 questions and 25% of the permanent residents were asked five additional questions. In addition to these questions, the census programme was supplemented with seven new questions concerning dwellings, in order to analyse people’s living conditions.

Ene-Margit Tiit has written a book about population censuses in Estonia (“Eesti rahvastik. Viis põlvkonda ja kümme loendust“), giving an overview of the ten censuses carried out in the territory of Estonia and of life in Estonia over five generations (i.e. the period 1881–2010). The book includes a brief overview of the organisation of the 2011 census.