Deaf Census Speculations

Between 1850 and 1910, most US censuses asked whether an individual was deaf. There were four alternative descriptions among the combinations of deafness and dumbness. Seems straightforward enough. The problem is that these aren’t discrete categories, they’re continuous. That is, one’s ability to hear can be zero, very good, bad, or just middling. What constitutes the threshold for deafness? In practice, it was the discretion of the enumerator. Understandably, there was a lot of variation in judgement from one enumerator to another. A lot of older people were categorized as deaf, even if they had some hearing loss.

Continue reading