Historical census record linkage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


For the past 80 years, social scientists have been linking historical censuses across time to study economic and geographic mobility. In recent decades, the quantity of historical census record linkage has exploded, owing largely to the advent of new machine-readable data created by genealogical organizations. Investigators are examining economic and geographic mobility across multiple generations and also engaging many new topics. Several analysts are exploring the effects of early-life socioeconomic conditions, environmental exposures, or natural disasters on family, health, and economic outcomes in later life. Other studies exploit natural experiments to gauge the impact of policy interventions such as social welfare programs and educational reforms. The new data sources have led to a proliferation of record linkage methodologies, and some widespread approaches inadvertently introduce errors that can lead to false inferences. A new generation of large-scale shared data infrastructure now in preparation will ameliorate weaknesses of current linkage methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-37
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - Jul 30 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge support from the Minnesota Population Center (P2C HD041023), funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The article benefited from feedback from Martha Bailey, Joseph Ferrie, Ron Goeken, Miriam King, and Jacob Wellington.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • census
  • longitudinal data
  • record linkage


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