Mail Response Rate

The mail response rate is defined as the ratio of mail returns to the mail-out universe.

Mail Response Rate     =    Mail Returns         X          100
                                          Mail-out Universe

The denominator is the mail-out universe: the number of addresses that receive a questionnaire from either the United States Postal Service or Census Bureau staff. The mail-out universe includes occupied housing units, vacant units and nonexistent units. The numerator is mail returns: the number of these addresses for which the Census Bureau receives a questionnaire back through the mail. The mail response rate covers all of those questionnaires that are returned before the non-response follow-up universe is determined.

The mail response rate will be used by the Census Bureau in its "Plus Five" program to encourage people to return their Census 2000 form by mail. In the "Plus Five" program, Dr. Prewitt, the director of the Census Bureau, is challenging jurisdictions to increase their Census 2000 mail response rate by five percentage points over their 1990 rate.

1990 mail response rates are currently posted on the Census Bureau’s website:

During Census 2000, the Census Bureau plans to post and continuously update local mail response rates.

For a detailed demographic analysis of response rates in the 1990 census, see the paper "Who Responds/Who Doesn’t? Analyzing Variation in Mail Response Rates During the 1990 Census", by David L. Word, 1997. The full text of this paper is available at:

All jurisdictions do not have a mail response rate.
Mail response rates are calculated only for those areas of the country where either the U.S. Postal Service or Census Bureau staff deliver questionnaires to addresses prior to Census Day (April 1). In these areas, respondents complete the questionnaire and return it to the Census Bureau by mail. If a jurisdiction were enumerated solely by the list/enumerate methodology, i.e. a Census Bureau enumerator delivers the questionnaire to the address and personally interviews the household, writing the answers on the questionnaire, the mail response rate will not be displayed. Note also that the jurisdictional boundaries reflect 1990 definitions.