History of the Census

History of the Census

On average every ten years since 1842, Malta has been conducting the Census of Population and Housing, during which a count of all persons, households and dwellings is taken. The Census is the most complete available source of information about the population in the country.

Early Population Counts

In 1240 A.D. circa, a report by a certain Abate Giliberto put the number of families living in the Islands of Malta and Gozo at 1,119. The Archives relating to Maltese medieval demographic history show that a “Census of Population and Production” was conducted in 1481 A.D. Its purpose was to record the local production and stocks of wheat, as well as to enumerate the consumers. At the time of its publication, it was quaintly described as a Census of “mouths” and “wheat”. The results of this Census are not known, but three decades into the 17th century, specifically in 1632, a census recorded the number of people living in the Islands at 51,750. Table 1 depicts a series of population counts and estimates dating to the earliest records up to just before 1842, when the line of “modern censuses” was initiated. This table should be read with caution. Modern research has demonstrated the need to be extremely wary of the use of information emanating from early population counts. Documentation on Maltese medieval history is scanty and often unreliable when dealing with demographic and social data. It would seem that, in so far as demographic data prior to the 19th century are concerned, the only two reliable sources are (1) the Militia Lists and (2) the Parochial Registers.

Table 1. Population censuses and estimates prior to 1842

Year Numbers
Source: Information adapted from Census 1957.

Censuses in the 19th Century

When the troops of the first French Republic invaded Malta in 1798, the Maltese population was said to number over 100,000. Depredations during the French siege of Valletta brought it down to 93,054 (Census in 1807). The information for this Census, which showed that 31 per cent of the population was concentrated in the environs of Valletta and Floriana, was abstracted from parochial registers. According to a detailed report on the 1813 plague by Dr. W.H. Burrell, Principal Medical Officer of the Army in Malta, the total population was estimated at 111,000.
On March 21, 1842 the first census in a line of decennial censuses was carried out. The 2011 Census will be the seventeenth in this series. The five censuses held between 1842 and 1881 were authorised by an Official Notice published in the Malta Government Gazette. Each housekeeper or head of the household was required to complete a form that was delivered by an official enumerator on a fixed date and subsequently collected, duly filled, five days after. In view of the widespread illiteracy, the Notice stated:
… to the effect that such forms may be filled up with accuracy and despatch, the Governor requests the well-informed and respectable inhabitants to assist their neighbours in furnishing the required information.

Censuses in the 20th Century

The subsequent five censuses, taken between 1891 and 1931, were underpinned by an Ordinance empowering the Governor to formulate regulations for the taking of a census within a specified period. This was Ordinance No. II of 1891. This year marked the first time that a penalty clause for non-response was inserted into census legislation. In fact, Preliminary Remark No. 6 of the General Report on the 1891 Census states:
No serious obstacles were met within the enumeration, and in the few instances in which information was refused, a simple warning that persons refusing to give the required information were liable to the penalties established by Law for contraventions sufficed to overcome all opposition

Table 2. Population: 1842-2005

Census Date Population Percentage intercensal
increase/ decrease
No. of males per
1,000 females
Total Males Females Total Males Females
1842, March 211144995516859331930
1851, March 3112349660456630407.869.596.25959
1861, October 3113405566270677858.559.627.53978
1871, May 314177569952718235.765.565.96974
1881, April 314978273430763525.654.976.31962
1891, April 5165037813168372110.1810.749.65971
1901, March 31184742919949274811.9413.1310.78992
1911, April 221156410560110596314.5214.7914.25997
1921, April 242122581027451095130.33-2.73.35938
1931, April 2624162111745712416413.8314.3213.38946
1948, June 1430599115066515532626.6428.2725.1970
1957, November 303196201531081665124.451.627.2920
1967, November 26314216150598163618-1.69-1.64-1.74920
1985, November 163454181698321755869.9312.777.31967
1995, November 263781321868361912969.4710.018.95977
2005, November 274049622008192041437.17.486.72984
2011, November 204174322076252098073.13.32.8990

Permanent legislation for the taking of a census of population was enacted in Malta in 1948 on the occasion of the post-Second-World-War Census. Act II of 1948 was passed by the Legislative Assembly and assented to by the Governor of Malta, Governor Sir Francis C.R. Douglas on 28th February 1948. This Act constitutes the legal basis for all the population censuses taken in and after 1948 and also for the Census to be carried out in November 2005. A silhouette of all the censuses carried out from 1842 to date is presented in Table 2.

Method of Conducting the Census

There are two universally-adopted methods for the taking of a census – the ‘de facto’ and the ‘de jure’ methods. The ‘de facto’ method concerns the enumeration of the population of a place at the time the Census is taken, irrespective of whether the person is at the usual place of residence or not. By means of the ‘de jure’ method, a person enumerated away from the usual place of residence is referred to the area of usual residence. By means of this approach therefore, all persons are finally recorded in the locality in which they reside permanently. Up to the 1931 Census, censuses in Malta were conducted using the ‘de facto’ approach. The 1948 Census was the first one taken​ using the ‘de jure’ method, a procedure that applied also to the methodology employed in all subsequent population and housing censuses, and which will be utilised in the 2021 Census.
Also, for the first time ever in 2011, the ‘intention of stay’ was also considered to determine the eligibility criteria upon which someone is enumerated in a census. Indeed, the definition, which will be also considered in 2021, states that enumerated persons should comprise those who have lived in Malta for a continuous period of at least twelve months before Census day, or who arrived in Malta during the twelve months before this day with the intention of staying in Malta for at least one year.

Processing Census Data

No machinery was used for the tabulation of the 1948 Census data. All the work was performed manually by means of worksheets and the transcription of head counts onto a series of summary sheets. These were then used to compile the various tables prepared to show the information in the desired variables.
For the 1957 and 1967 Censuses, the completed enumeration schedules were centralised in the Census Office. The coding, checking and tabulating of the data followed in readiness for the transfer of this information by machine operators to Hollerith punch cards. Data Processing technology was first used in the course of the 1985 Census, when the information collected was transferred to computer files on a 100-per-cent basis. Computers were extensively in evidence in the 1995 Census, with the data being processed in a data-entry pool peopled by about 20 operators entering and verifying data at their personal workstations but linked in a single network.

Figure 1: Hollerith punch card

2021.02.12 Figure 1 Hollerith punch card

The Hollerith machine system was used from the mid-Fifties onwards by Maltese government departments for the processing of all types of data

Table 3. A stock-take of census publications since 1957

Prelimin​ary repor​tPreliminary reportPreliminary reportPreliminary reportPreliminary reportPreliminary report
1957 Census​ SilhouetteReport on Housing CharacteristicsA Demographic Profile of Malta and GozoVol. 1 Population, Age, Gender and CitizenshipVol. 1 PopulationFinal report
Report on Population and HousingReport on Economic Activities Vols. I and IIA Computer-drawn Demographic Atlas of Malta and GozoVol. 2 FertilityVol. 2 Dwellings
Report on Economic ActivitiesReport on Population CharacteristicsVol. 3 Nuptiality and Households
Maltese Life TableVol. 4 Education and Economic Activity
Source: National Statistics Office

The last Census held in 2011

The 2011 Census of Population and Housing was the seventeenth official one to be carried out in Malta since 1842. Data was collected across the Maltese Islands between 7 November and 4 December 2011 and provided a comprehensive profile of the demographic and social condition of Maltese residents and households, including information on housing and amenities at a national, regional and local level.
Furthermore, the 2011 Census was part of a European Union‐wide round, since it was held across all 27 Member States of that time. The adoption of the European Regulation establishes common rules for the provision of comprehensive data on population and housing every ten years by the EU Member States to facilitate coherence and harmonisation across the EU.
Key demographic trends of Malta as recorded in the 2011 Census were:
  • The population of Malta as at 20 November 2011 stood at 417,432 persons, nearly double the count a century ago.
  • More females than males were enumerated although the gap between the sexes continued to narrow.
  • The average age stood at 40.5 years, indicating a shift towards an ageing population.
  • Nearly 21 thousand non-Maltese national was enumerated.
  • Private households numbered nearly 153 thousand while the total stock of dwellings stood at nearly 224 thousand with almost a third being unoccupied.
  • Malta ranked first in terms of the most densely populated country across the EU, with 1,556 persons/km2.
  • Smaller private households were also on the increase due to an increase in single‐person households.

Chart 1. Population growth: 1842 – 2011

2021.02.12 Chart 1 Population growth 1842 – 2011

Accessing 2011 and earlier Census data

Printed reports containing census results have been produced for all censuses. The 2005 Census introduced the first release of census results on electronic media. A complete set of all previous census printed reports is available for public access by arrangement with the Communication and Dissemination Unit at the National Statistics Office in Valletta. Custom requests can also be provided on request and at extra cost.
While the general picture of population change can be studied from one census to another, each census evolved in a unique way to reflect the changes in society at the time. Therefore, direct comparison with regards to detailed change over time is not advisable also in view of different metadata and classification issues. Changes between censuses reflect changes in; the method of questions asked, the categories and classifications used and updates in geographical boundaries. This means that each census primarily provides a ‘cross sectional’ picture of the country at each specified census date.
For more information on past and upcoming censuses, kindly contact the Communication and Dissemination Unit at the National Statistics Office with your enquiries. They will advise on the availability of census related products, offer guidance on other sources of data and are the central source of information for any information provided by the National Statistics Office.
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