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Data Variables and Definitions
Demographic Descriptions: Census and ACS
Demographic Descriptions: Census and ACS

Definitions and metadata on the terminology used in the Census and American Community Survey.

Written by Laird Nossuli
Updated over a week ago

A household consists of all the people who occupy a housing unit. A house, an apartment or other group of rooms, or a single room, is regarded

as a housing unit when it is occupied or intended for occupancy as separate living quarters; that is, when the occupants do not live with any

other persons in the structure and there is direct access from the outside or through a common hall.

A household includes the related family members and all the unrelated people, if any, such as lodgers, foster children, wards, or employees who

share the housing unit. A person living alone in a housing unit, or a group of unrelated people sharing a housing unit such as partners or

roomers, is also counted as a household. The count of households excludes group quarters. There are two major categories of households,

"family" and "nonfamily". (See definitions of Family household and Nonfamily household)

A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together; all

such people (including related subfamily members) are considered as members of one family. The number of families is equal to the number of family

households, however, the count of family members differs from the count of family household members because family household members

include any non-relatives living in the household.

A nonfamily household consists of a householder living alone (a one-person household) or where the householder shares the home exclusively

with people to whom he/she is not related

The householder refers to the person (or one of the people) in whose name the housing unit is owned or rented (maintained) or, if there is no

such person, any adult member, excluding roomers, boarders, or paid employees. If the house is owned or rented jointly by a married couple,

the householder may be either the husband or the wife. The person designated as the householder is the "reference person" to whom the

relationship of all other household members, if any, is recorded

Head versus householder. Beginning with the 1980 CPS, the Bureau of the Census discontinued the use of the terms "head of household" and

"head of family." Instead, the terms "householder" and "family householder" are used. Recent social changes have resulted in greater sharing of

household responsibilities among the adult members and, therefore, have made the term "head" increasingly inappropriate in the analysis of

household and family data. Specifically, beginning in 1980, the Census Bureau discontinued its longtime practice of always classifying the

husband as the reference person (head) when he and his wife are living together.

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