Households and families What has changed in the microcensus as of 2020?

The microcensus is a representative household survey which has provided data on the structure and the economic and social situation of the population for more than 60 years. Every year, one percent of the population is requested to provide information about topics such as family, life partnership, life situation, occupation, and education and training. The tried and tested design of the microcensus as an omnibus survey has been continuously developed to fulfil increasing data quality requirements. Since 1968, for example, EU-wide questions about labour market participation (Labour Force Survey, LFS) have been an integral part of the microcensus.

Increasing national and European data accuracy, timeliness and comparability requirements have raised the burden of household surveys both for the population and the statistical offices of the Federation and the Länder. This is the reason why similarities between and common characteristics of the different surveys have been used to fulfil the increasing requirements and, at the same time, reduce the relevant burden. The integrated microcensus is based on this approach.

Further information can be found in the following sections:

The road to an integrated microcensus

The Microcensus Act (MZG) of December 2016 forms the basis for the new integrated microcensus. The Microcensus Act provides for some changes with a view to reducing the population’s response burden despite increasing data requirements. The surveys of income and living conditions1 and of the use of information and communication technologies, which were conducted separately in the past, have been integrated into the microcensus in order to meet both national and European requirements. Regarding income and living conditions, for example, data are needed at a level below Land level. Furthermore, the reporting of sub-annual data on labour market participation that are harmonised at the EU level is to be improved. These challenges can only be met by increasing the sample size and conducting follow-up surveys within a calendar year.

Basic concept of the integrated microcensus

The basic idea of the new microcensus has been to integrate the surveys that were conducted separately in the past in one survey from 2020 onwards. As a result, a set of integrated official household statistics is obtained where the surveys of labour market participation, income and living conditions, and information and communication technologies represent individual subsamples of the one percent microcensus sample.

As the individual surveys show overlaps in terms of content, integration permits the individual lists of questions to be combined. Therefore, the microcensus survey will in future comprise a shortened list of core questions and further survey components. The information needed to answer the core questions and those of the various additional components is not collected successively based on sort of a modular approach. Instead, the list of questions combines the content of different subject areas.

The questions of the core programme are posed to all the randomly selected households whereas only part of all microcensus households (the so-called subsamples) are asked to answer the questions of the other survey components. Each household is included in no more than one subsample. Due to the increased importance of reliable data on social participation, the basic principle of compulsory response is also applied to essential elements of the newly integrated survey content.

The principle of including all households up to four times in the microcensus survey is maintained. The survey of households that are included in the labour market participation subsample is carried out twice instead of once a calendar year (subannual follow-up survey). This will permit seasonal fluctuations to be covered more appropriately. To keep the burden on respondents low, however, the subannual follow-up survey focuses on the key variables for measuring changes in the labour market. Data for supplementary structural variables are only collected in every second survey, that is, once a year as before.

New topics in the microcensus

The Federal Government has committed itself to attaching special importance to combating poverty and social exclusion in the framework of the Europe 2020 Strategy. This is why information about the risk of poverty is very important. Integrating the survey of income and living conditions into the microcensus puts the focus on income distribution, poverty, social exclusion and living conditions (housing, access to services, quality of life).

Other new topics on Internet access and use result from the integration of the survey on information and communication technologies into the microcensus. The focus of this survey section is on questions about the type, frequency and selected purposes of Internet use (for example, e-commerce, e-government, Internet security, digital skills or the Internet of Things). In addition, information is collected on what concerns and obstacles prevent people from carrying out certain Internet activities (for example, online purchases or giving out personal information via social media on the Internet).

Furthermore, the content of the national additional programme on “Housing” was extended by the Microcensus Act. In 2018 data on improved accessibility were collected for the first time. Owing to its importance for housing policy decisions and the need for detailed results, the whole one percent sample is asked to answer the questions of the additional programme.

Recording the so-called extended migrant background - that is, whether at least one of the parents has a migrant background - is another modification which has been included since the new Microcensus Act came into force. Until 2016 this information was only available every four years or in cases where the parents lived in the same household.

New methods of data collection

New survey tools and a multi-mode design facilitate participation of the respondents. For example, the microcensus questions could be answered online for the first time in 2020. As alternatives, personal or telephone interviews and paper questionnaires are still available to the respondents. The individual household members can provide their answers either in the same way or using different channels (face-to-face, telephone, online, in writing - by post).


The advanced microcensus survey and introduction of additional modes of data collection that take into account data quality and efficiency aspects facilitate the production of modern household statistics. Furthermore, conducting parallel surveys with some similar topics is avoided by integrating these surveys into the microcensus. This reduces data discrepancy and redundancy as well as dual efforts and additional costs.

More information

Detailed information on microcensus modifications is contained in the paper entitled "Die Neuregelung des Mikrozensus ab 2020" (Rearranged microcensus as from 2020), which was published in the 6/2019 issue of the Wirtschaft und Statistik (WISTA) scientific journal.



1: The German name of the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU_SILC) has so far been LEBEN IN EUROPA.