Thursday, February 11, 2010

Head Count

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be taking a census of the entire country in the coming months. This will be the fourth census taken since 1974. The last census which was in 2004 revealed the population of the country to be 22 million, comprised of about 73% Saudi nationals (about 16.5 million), and the rest were expatriates from other countries. In the entire Gulf Coast region, Saudi Arabia is the largest country both in land area and in population, making up a good 60-65% of the populous of the region.

The Kingdom has employed and trained about 40,000 workers to conduct the census. The Saudi government has called upon all Saudi citizens and foreigners to cooperate in providing accurate information to the various questions concerning the demographics, economic and social makeup of all people living here. The census form consists of 59 questions and supposedly takes about 15 minutes to complete. The entire Gulf region is working together to take a joint census in all of the Gulf countries.

I can't really speak for the other Gulf area countries, but I can only imagine what a difficult and challenging task this must be to undertake in a place like Saudi Arabia, especially considering how this society is set up. First of all, I would doubt that there would be any female census takers since women cannot drive and it wouldn't be acceptable for a woman to come calling to a stranger's home, even if she would be on official state business. The working hours here are so irregular because of the five prayer times during each day, that I wonder how these census takers will manage to find men at home to talk to because if the man of the house is not at home when the census takers arrive, the women will not open the door or speak to a strange man. Many men work normally into the evening hours because the working day is chopped up so much to accommodate prayer times.

Another problem I see is that there are no street addresses here in Jeddah, and I think it's the same in the rest of the country. Many streets do not even have names. Logistically speaking, taking a census here must be a nightmare. What about the thousands of Bedouins who still roam the deserts here and don't really have one permanent abode? There are many who still live in tents and move frequently. How can anyone ensure that they will be counted? Yet another questionable issue is the fact that Saudi Arabia has so many poor and uneducated illegal aliens living here. Thousands have come to this country on the pretense of fulfilling their Hajj requirement in Islam and end up staying here permanently and illegally, in hopes of forging a better life than what they had in their own countries. Even though I read that these overstayers need not worry about being caught and sent back to their countries or thrown in jail, I'm sure that most of them will not get this message and would be fearful of answering questions like this. I just don't see how accurate a census can really be here.

I would just love to see the census form: Head of Household; Wife #1 and children; Wife #2 and children; etc. Number of people total in the household, including all wives and children, grandparents, maids, drivers, gatekeepers, nannies, cooks, etc. This could be really interesting...

For more information, here is an Arab News article about the subject.


  1. I wondered about the apparent lack of addresses when I was there. Also, I never saw a mailbox or post office....

  2. How complicated! I never thought about all the little stuff behind a census - last time we had a census we just filled out a form and mailed it back, easy as that!

  3. How accurate this is going to be!!! So sad.

  4. Hello Susie,
    It would be interesting if you could post up some translated questions from the census and a picture of the survey form, if that's allowed. I suspect that they wouldn't be asking respondents which religion they are given that might be a very sensitive issue there, as religions other than Islam are discouraged.

    I wonder if a form will make it to your house.

    Wishing you well from Australia


  5. Hi Diane - There are individually owned postal services but I can't recall ever seeing a government post office here either!

    Hi Robin, Hi Lori - I saw online that this year's US census only has 10 questions on it! I remember the last time I filled it out, maybe 10 years ago, it was page after page of really probing questions, like how many bedrooms and bathrooms the house had, etc.

    Hi Kristina - If I get to see a form, I'll be sure to get a copy! I think it would be an interesting question about the religion as far as the expats go. But of course the government already has that information, as stating your religion is required on the visa application.

  6. Hi Susie
    There are post offices that are part of the Saudi Postal Service which I assume to be a government body and I have been using them for the last 10 years to send parcels to my family in Europe and I never got a parcel lost or mishandled.The one I use is in Rowda St.This information might be of help to someone out there.

  7. Thanks, Maria! I'll keep my eyes peeled.

  8. The US will be doing their census in the next month or so. There are a total of 10 questions, non of them have to do with religion or even if you are an American citizen. I will be letting them use part of our offices to address questions for locals so I will send you a form from the U.S. as a comparision, if you like. As directional impaired as I am (I have been lost in Douglas) I can't imagine trying to get around with NO ADDRESSES!!! The things we take for granted. Hugs and regards, Lawana

  9. Couldn't they just collect/look up all the family cards?

    I was really shocked at how low the population is in KSA. It's got less people than some states here in the US. I never realised that before.

  10. The US census, IIRC, sends out either a short form (about 10 questions), to most households, or a long form (many questions), to a smaller number of households, as Susie described.

    Saudi Arabia isn't the only country that lacks street names. In Japan, in most cases, streets also do not have names. Their addresses consist of city, ward, and a system that breaks down locations within ward (and not in a linear way). Directions are usually given with landmarks. I wouldn't be surprised that something similar exists in Saudi Arabia.

  11. What a great resource!

  12. asalamu alakum susie am new to your blog. one thing that bothered me about the census is the question about the race. why can't the box's just read black, african, african american. whats so hard about that. Since there was a census done in 2004 why can't it be changed. anywho your blog is cool. wish you the best.

  13. Hi Sara - I think they posed the question that way because people refer to their ethnicity in different ways. It wasn't meant to offend, only to clarify and be more specific. Thanks for commenting.