Special Report

Surprising Things the Government Knows About Americans

According to the U.S. Constitution, a population count is required every 10 years. The first decennial census was conducted in 1790 and consisted of just six questions. The census has grown in size and complexity since then, and today encompasses demographic, social, and economic information about America’s communities.

As government national surveys become more comprehensive, resistance to the surveys has also increased. For example, the share of households that have declined to participate in the annual census has steadily increased from 0.9% in 2007 to 2.1% in 2016. Many respondents may feel that some questions — concerning grooming habits, marriage history, and snoring tendencies, for example — are unnecessarily probing.

While some respondents may feel uneasy about giving personal information to a surveyor, the Census Bureau and other agencies conducting surveys assert that every question has a purpose and can ultimately help communities in a number of ways. Results of the census help the federal government determine where to distribute more than $675 billion in funds.

Based on the questions asked in several major national surveys, 24/7 Wall St. identified some of the most surprising things the government knows about Americans.

Click here to see the full list of surprising things the government knows about Americans.

Some questions are designed to provide data for assessing health risks on a national scale. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, for example, asks respondents whether they have been told that they snore loudly. Rather than cataloging the percentage of Americans who snore, the BRFSS is aiming to generate an estimate of the risk for health problems associated with snoring, such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Additionally, snoring behavior can be difficult to self-assess, and asking respondents whether they have been told they snore may provide a more accurate figure than asking respondents whether they themselves snore or not. While 33.2% of adults report that they never snore, only 23.6% of adults have never been told that they snore.

In some cases, questions include specific qualifiers in order to ensure uniform data collection and reliable statistics. In the BRFSS, for example, respondents are asked to provide their height and weight without shoes in order to collect the raw data needed to calculate body mass index and estimate obesity.

Based on the questions asked in several major national household surveys, 24/7 Wall St. identified some of the most surprising things the government knows about Americans. Surveys used include the American Community Survey and the American Housing Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, the Behavioral Risk Surveillance System, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Time Use Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and American National Election Studies.

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