Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 897–914 | Cite as

Undercounting Urban Residents in Bolivia: A Small-Area Study of Census-Driven Migration

  • Jorge C. Derpic
  • Alexander Weinreb


Employing a small-area study approach in a single urban area in Bolivia, a country with high rates of internal circular migration, we describe how, in the months before the November 2012 census, local leaders and neighbors, concerned with maximizing the per capita resources their residential districts and rural communities could claim from central government, threatened to employ sanctions against absent individuals whom they judged to be regular residents. We use three types of data—a two-wave household survey, data from vehicle toll booths, and photographic logs of a minibus station—to show how these threats generated substantial movement out of the urban area, leading to an urban undercount of roughly 20 % of prime-age adults and 50 % of those aged at least 50. More generally, we argue that these data highlight how local leaders’ increasingly sophisticated attempts to shape data extend beyond the well-known examples from autocratic states. This is driven by a combination of intensive urban–rural connections, leaders’ greater democratic accountability to local voters, increasing fiscal transparency at the national level, increasing fiscal accountability of governments to transnational neoliberal institutions pushing “transparency” and “evidence-based” policy, and more overt talk about “resource sharing” that is rooted in an evidence-based planning paradigm. Since these structural conditions exist in many other developing countries, the possibility of equivalent urban undercounts in forthcoming censuses needs to be anticipated and avoided.


Undercount Internal migration Small-area study Bolivia Latin America 



A small grant from the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin funded the collection of data used in this study. We acknowledge the extremely helpful comments from Dr. Bryan Roberts and Dr. Nestor Rodriguez on a prior draft, and from Roger Chambi and Manuel Apaza for research assistance (as enumerators) in the field.


  1. Albó, X. (2012). Censo 2012 en Bolivia: posibilidades y limitaciones respecto a los pueblos indígenas. T’inkazos, (32), 33–45. La Paz, Bolivia.Google Scholar
  2. Altamirano, T., Hirabayashi, L., & Albo, X. (eds.) (1997). Migrants, regional identities and Latin American cities, vol. 13. Society for Latin American Anthropology Publications Series, The Society for Latin American Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association.Google Scholar
  3. Antequera, D. N., & Cielo, C. (2011). Ciudad sin fronteras. Sobre la multilocalidad de lo urbano en Bolivia. In D. N. Antequera & C. Cielo (Eds.). La Paz, Bolivia.Google Scholar
  4. BBC. (2012, November 22). Curfew over after Bolivian census. BBC, sec. Latin America & Caribbean. Retrieved from Accessed 29 Apr 2013.
  5. Bean, F. D., & Tienda, M. (1987). The Hispanic population of the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  6. Bilsborrow, R. E., Oberai, A. S., Standing, G., & World Employment Programme. (1984). Migration surveys in low income countries: guidelines for survey and questionnaire design. London/Dover, N.H.: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  7. Bolivia. (2012). Supreme Decree Nº 1305, 1305 C.F.R.Google Scholar
  8. Brownrigg, L. A., & de la Puente, M. (1993). Alternative enumeration methods and results: resolution and resolved populations by site. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce.Google Scholar
  9. Bustillos, I. (2012). Ciudades y comunidades rurales ‘inflaron’ su población, La Razón. Retrieved from Accessed 29 Apr 2013.
  10. Choldin, H. M. (1986). Statistics and politics: The “hispanic issue” in the 1980 census. Demography, 23(3), 403–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Condarco Morales, R. (1970). El escenario andino y el hombre. La Paz.Google Scholar
  12. Diario, El. (2013). Departamentos no ceden protesta contra resultados del censo y Gobierno minimiza. (2013, 09/18/2013). El Diario. Retrieved from Accessed 1 Nov 2013.
  13. Duany, J. (1992). The census undercount, the underground economy and undocumented migration: The case of Dominicans in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Evaluation of the 1990 Decennial Census Report. Retrieved from Accessed 1 Mar 2013.
  14. ECA. (1977). Study on special techniques for enumerating nomads in African censuses and surveys. United Nations Economic and Social Council. (E/CN.14/CAS.10/16).Google Scholar
  15. Fernández Ortiz, R. (2013). Crónica de un censo accidentado. Nueva Crónica, (1a. quincena de agosto).Google Scholar
  16. FOCAPACI. (2012). Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial Distrito 14. El Alto: Graficolor.Google Scholar
  17. Greenhalgh, S., & Winckler, E. (2005). Governing China’s population: From Leninist to neoliberal biopolitics. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Heeringa, S. G., & O’muircheartaigh, C. (2010). Sample design for cross-cultural and cross-national survey programs. In J.A. Harkness et al (Eds.) Survey methods in multinational, multiregional, and multicultural contexts (pp. 251–267). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  19. Instituto Nacional de Estadística. (2012a). Boleta Censal.. Accessed 18 Mar 2013.Google Scholar
  20. Instituto Nacional de Estadística. (2012b). Manual del Empadronador. Retrieved from Accessed 29 Apr 2013.
  21. La R. C. (2012). Dudas ciudadanas sobre el censo. Retrieved from Accessed 28 Aug 2013.
  22. Mazurek, H. (2008). Three pre-concepts regarding the internal migration in Bolivia. Revista de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (Santa Cruz de la Sierra), 14(1–2), 1–18. Retrieved from Accessed 30 Jan 2013.
  23. Murra, J. (1972). El Control vertical de un máximo de pisos ecológicos en la economía de las sociedades andinas. In J. Murra (Ed.), Visita de la Provincia de León de Huánuco en 1562 vol. 2 (pp. 427–476).Google Scholar
  24. Pennell, B, Harkness, J. A., Evenstein, R. L., & Quaglia, M. (2010). Challenges in cross-national data collection. In J.A. Harkness et al (Eds.) Survey methods in multinational, multiregional, and multicultural contexts (pp. 269–298). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  25. Pollard, A. H., Yusuf, F., & Pollard, G. N. (1990). Demographic techniques (3rd ed.). Sydney: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  26. Poupeau, F. (2010). De la migración rural a la movilidad intraurbana. Una perspectiva sociológica sobre las desigualdades socioespaciales de acceso al agua en El Alto. Actes & Mémoires 6, 2010, Lima, pp. 243–280.Google Scholar
  27. Prada Alcoreza, R. (2013). ¿Censo o enumeración incompleta? Bolpress. Retrieved from Accessed 6 Aug 2013.
  28. Quispe, A. (2012). Temen multas y que corten el agua, La Razón. Retrieved from Accessed 29 Apr 2013.
  29. Rivas, M. (2012). Vecinos de 2 distritos alteños son censados en lotes baldíos. La Razón. Retrieved from Accessed 29 Apr 2013.
  30. Roberts, B. (1974). The interrelationships of city and provinces in Peru and Guatemala. In W. Cornelius & F. Trueblood (Eds.), Latin American urban research (pp. 207–235). Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Sánchez, M. M. (Ed.). (2011). Hablemos de tierras: minifundio, gestión territorial, bosques e impuesto agrario en Bolivia. La Paz, Bolivia: Plural editores.Google Scholar
  32. Sandóval, G., Albó, X., & Greaves, T. (1987). Chukiyawu. La Cara Aymara de La Paz, vol 4. La Paz.Google Scholar
  33. Smith, G. (1991). Livelihood and resistance: Peasants and the politics of land in Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  34. Smith, C. T., Schultz, L. K., Smith, P. J., & Diffendal, G. (1985). Small area estimation research for undercountProgress report (No. SRD Research Report Number: CENSUS/SRD/RR-8510). Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census. Retrieved from Accessed 1 Mar 2013.
  35. Sung, B.L. (1991). Behavioral causes of census undercount: New York City’s Chinatown. Ethnographic Evaluation Series of the 1990 Decennial Census Report Series: Report #6. Retrieved from Accessed 1 Mar 2013.
  36. Tourangeau, R., Rips, L. J., & Rasinski, K. A. (2000). The psychology of survey response. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. US Census Bureau. (2012). Census bureau releases estimates of undercount and overcount in the 2010 census2010 census. Retrieved May 20, 2013, from
  38. Weinreb, A. A. (2006). The limitations of stranger-interviewers in rural Kenya. American Sociological Review, 71(6), 1014–1039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zuberi, T. (2003). Thicker than blood: How racial statistics lie. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Population Research CenterUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations