Demographic data provide important statistical information regarding populations, including age, race, sex, and more—information that can be applied in many different ways by those working to advance equitable well-being. Demographic data can expose trends, changes, and disparities across communities. Demographic data are used to improve and inform policies that impact communities. Demographic data collected through the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey are used to inform federal, state, local, and tribal policies, providing crucial information about the communities they serve and future policy-making and funding. U.S. Census data has also been used to inform demographic reports such as Mapping America’s Diversity with the 2020 Census, which highlights the growing racial and ethnic diversity across the United States.
Demographic data are crucial in public health practice because they help to describe communities and the people who live there. They are used to improve public health policy, allocate resources and support, and strategize interventions. For example, Data for Black Lives uses data to create and reform data systems to empower communities of color. “Bad” data—data that are invalid or not representative, as well as lack of data, are threats to equity. Both undercounting and overcounting when collecting demographic data can contribute to inadequate information and growing mistrust toward systems and institutions. Bad data lead to inaccurate information, on which policies and programs often rely. A lack of demographic data can create a vacuum of information (as seen with the COVID-19 pandemic) about vulnerable populations, which can further exacerbate racial and ethnic disparities. On the other hand, presenting disaggregated data may contribute to stigma and present risks to privacy.
Adoption of data equity practices, such as enforcing demographic data collection in federal and state data surveillance and collection programs, and disaggregating data where possible to capture racial and ethnic identity, can improve data collection at national and state levels. At local levels, community organizers and policy-makers can utilize demographic data to promote equity-driven data and create transformative systems of change.