The Hollerith census tabulator
Originally uploaded by Erik Pitti
In today’s census, we need to fill out how everybody in the house is related to everybody else. To do this, we need to tick some boxes that contain options such as “mother or father”, “step-mother or step-father”, “brother or sister”, “step-brother or step-sister”, etc.
However, there is no box labelled “half-brother or half-sister”. Fair enough, I thought when I filled it out, I’ll just use “brother or sister” instead – that’s how they think about each other and what they call each other when they’re not being pedantic.
However, according to this article, the official advice is to tick the “step-brother or step-sister” box for half-siblings. (The article is about the English census, but Scotland’s census contains exactly the same questions about family relationships.)
This is ludicrous! If they want those two categories conflated, that’s fair enough, but then the box should then be labelled “half-sibling or step-sibling”. Without those extra words, most people will automatically assume they should tick the “brother or sister” box, and the result will be inconsistent statistics.
It’s possible that statisticians use “step-sibling” in a different way from the rest of us, but the census will be filled out by normal people, and the language used should reflect that.