Tobi Hill-Meyer

Poly Households Can Be Reported in the Census

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | March 25, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: LGBT families, non-monogamy, polyamory, US Census

That's right. There's been minimal information on this topic. I've asked the folks at Our Families Count, who could not answer if such a thing would be possible. I've googled polyamory and census only to come up with a couple of people under the impression that being poly is not something that could be reported on the census. But once I received my census in the mail and saw the exact framing of the questions, it was right in front of me, clear as day: Poly families CAN be counted.

There are limitations of course. Just as same-sex couples can only be reported if they are living together, the same is true for polyamorous families. This is likely a very very small fraction of non-monogamous people in general. Nonetheless, the census records the relationship between all household members and the head of household. If more than one household member has a romantic/sexual relationship with "Person #1," then they can each be listed as a married or unmarried partner. And that's exactly what I did for my household.

Normally, I like to know more about a subject like this before writing about it. Admittedly, this is the first census form I filled out, as I was still living with my parents the last time around. I don't even know if the questions were framed this way in the 2000 census. All I can say is that I hope this data gets used.

Plenty of organizations have made the point that the information about our families in the census can be a valuable tool in our fight for equality. This is no less true for families like mine. It's rather unfortunate that in the runnup to the census that our families were left out of the push to be counted and never even get a solid answer as to whether or not we could be counted. When the data is released and it's time for the number crunchers to do their thing, I hope we don't get left out yet again.


Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Thanks, Tobi. There's always something else to be aware of, isn't there?
I have some good friends who are poly. It doesn't come up that much in our awareness as humans- and it affects more people than we know (or think we don't know)....

I noted in my post about the census this week that the Williams Institute uses the word "one adult" when saying that you can designate someone in your household a "husband/wife." I agree with you, however, that the form does not say this. As long as Williams and gay rights groups are instructing people who FEEL they are married to use the "husband/wife" designation even if it is not legally correct, then I do not see a distinction in supporting those who considered themselves married to more than one person in their household, even though the law thinks of them differently.

I agree, but personally, I didn't feel comfortable listing more than one person in the husband/wife section. I know about all the supposed anonymity and such, but considering that being legally married to more than one person is a crime, I didn't feel comfortable listing my partners as such even though both relationships more or less "feel like" a marriage, whatever that means. It's the kind of situation I could imagine someone feeling "justified" breaking confidentiality to come and investigate, prosecute, or take away whatever kids we have down the road. The fear is big enough no matter how many reassurances I get to the contrary.

So of course people can list multiple people as "husband/wife," but for others similarly hesitant, there's always the option to list multiple people as "unmarried partner" as well.

Did you give them contact info in case they needed to contact you to "clarify" your answers? I'd love to hear if they do... You may blow some census taker's mind! ;-)

While you can fill out your Census form to reflect your poly family (and I suggest you do) data that the Census believes is not possible will be recoded. In this Nancy Polikoff is exactly right (my source is also from the Williams Institute). This includes two people of the same sex who were married in 1990 and 2000 (and before) (see http://vb.ly/25z8). It also included in 2000 people who said they were married or partnered with more than one person. Cite: personal conversation with Lee Badgett (http://www.umass.edu/economics/badgett.html , who is at the Williams Institute), also search for multiple spouses in http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps07/twps07.html

For a look at the 1990 census see "Demographics of the Gay and Lesbian Population in the United States: Evidence from
Available Systematic Data Sources" By Dan Black, Gary Gates, Seth Sanders, and Lowell Taylor in
*Demography* 37(2) May 2000: 139-154 (http://www-cpr.maxwell.syr.edu/cprwps/wps12abs.htm)   On page 145-146 (search for “One case that clearly shows some sort of measurement error is among households classified as containing multiple marriage-like relationships” at http://www.allbusiness.com/human_resources/3482633-1.html ), I noticed

something interesting: in the 5% sample of the 1990 census there appear to be 1,788 households

with multiple marriage-like relationships.  They narrow this considerably in column 2 paragraph 4

and 5 on page. 146 (9), throwing out households where one of the people appears to be someone's

child or under 18.  "If we examine households with exactly three adults, we find 86 households

composed of one married couple and an additional partner."  They then use this to detect

measurement error for the rest of the sample, they assume all these people misunderstood

"unmarried partner" or checked the wrong box, and this show the rate which they did.  Clearly, I'd

like to believe something else was going on with these 86 households., but its such a small number it is hard to be sure.

Sigh, that sounds incredibly frustrating. While it's certainly possible that some of those households were confused and filled the form out wrong, that's entirely possible for any other form of relationship. The assumption those researchers made makes no more sense than assuming that those who mark "husband/wife" or "unmarried partner" for someone of the same-sex must have just been confused.

Thanks for your clarification and further information, though. It sounds as if this data has been collected for decades, but the people examining it were too ignorant to understand it's implications.

Sigh, that sounds incredibly frustrating. While it's certainly possible that some of those households were confused and filled the form out wrong, that's entirely possible for any other form of relationship. The assumption those researchers made makes no more sense than assuming that those who mark "husband/wife" or "unmarried partner" for someone of the same-sex must have just been confused.

Thanks for your clarification and further information, though. It sounds as if this data has been collected for decades, but the people examining it were too ignorant to understand it's implications.

Thanks for letting us know. I won't even be looking at a Census form this year, so this is all academic to me.

But if the standard really is how you perceive your own relationships, then it makes sense for them to let people put down more than one. The real question is if they'll release data about people who mark more than one person as a husband/wife/nonmarital relationship? That could be useful.