How many “people” live in your house?

Here’s a screenshot of the census form:

As I understand it, there’s a sort of debate going on in America as to whether unborn babies are people, or merely potential people. It seems to me that pro-life voters tend to view the unborn as people, and pro-choice voters tend to view them as potential people.

Just thinking out loud, wouldn’t that impact the census? If I viewed an unborn baby as a person, then when answering question #1 on the census form I’d include the unborn when asked the number of “people” living in my house. If not, then not.

There are close to 3 million pregnancies in America at any point in time, although some are too early for the mother to be aware of their existence. So here’s my question. Is there any evidence that people answering the census question on the number of “people” in a house include the unborn?

If pro-life pregnant women do not include the unborn in the census question is that because they don’t regard it as a person? Or because they do regard it as a person, but assume the census authorities do not and wish to please the authorities?

PS. In April 2000, I faced this dilemma.



37 Responses to “How many “people” live in your house?”

  1. Gravatar of Derrill Watson Derrill Watson
    28. June 2022 at 13:35

    a) I regularly counted my soon-to-be-born children as fractions of a person, just for the pure pleasure of saying I had 2.5 children. If the census won’t let me enter decimals, I’d round. “Look, the kid will be here for most of 2010, so let’s count her.”

    b) When we had a miscarriage at only a few weeks, we mourned and grieved. We felt every bit that someone in our family had died. I have no problem with a rule that says you always round up.

  2. Gravatar of MSS1914 MSS1914
    28. June 2022 at 13:39


    The pro-lifers I know would likely not include their unborn in the census and would still consider abortion to be immoral. They would see nothing contradictory about that.

    In their (Conservative Catholic) view, its unknown to us when the embryo becomes a person (by “person” they mean it has been given a soul by God). However, since there is a chance that it has been ensouled at any given point since conception, then we must treat its right to life as absolute as if it were a person at the moment of conception.

    Because of their uncertainty about when personhood occurs though, they would likely omit the embryo from the census.

    I would be curious what pro-lifers who are non-religious (are their any?) would say about this census question though.

  3. Gravatar of David S David S
    28. June 2022 at 14:36

    My wife and I had more than a half dozen frozen embryos at one point in time. Can I claim those on my tax returns?

    Refrigeration costs are considerably cheaper than raising a child.

    I think the current Supreme Court would be fine with a special ad hoc committee composed of Catholics and Southern Baptists to resolve these issues for the IRS and the Census Bureau.

  4. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    28. June 2022 at 15:36

    Your use of the word unborn has me nervous that the word fetus has been outlawed and I didn’t get the memo.

    Yes, there is evidence from outside of the United States that a pro-life person would count a fetus as a person. I saw one document from the National Statistical Office of the Philippines that counted births and fetuses equally.

  5. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    28. June 2022 at 21:52

    You’re being a sore sport here Scott. The fact is Americans are institutionalized to the expected definitions the government wants and generally don’t want to be prosecuted for perjury as the government would view it regardless of their personal beliefs. It’s the same reason they don’t claim “grandma is alive in heaven so keep mailing me those social security checks”. Whether they earnestly believe it or not is irrelevant, they know the USG doesn’t.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. June 2022 at 21:59

    Brian, “Your use of the word unborn has me nervous”

    Just take some medication.

    Peter, “don’t want to be prosecuted for perjury”

    Thanks for the comic relief.

  7. Gravatar of Leon Leon
    29. June 2022 at 00:35

    This line of thinking may interact in interesting ways with birthright citizenship. If an unborn child is a person, are they stateless, presumably violating the universal declaration on human rights, or are they a citizen of some country (presumably the US)? If the latter, are you allowed to deport a US citizen just because you happen to be deporting the non-citizen whose womb they’re inhabiting.

  8. Gravatar of The other Gordo The other Gordo
    29. June 2022 at 03:30

    Talk about an anchor baby!

  9. Gravatar of Tom M Tom M
    29. June 2022 at 05:31

    “PS. In April 2000, I faced this dilemma.”

    What did you decide?!

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2022 at 07:40

    Leon, Just one of many ways in which it’s absurd to view the unborn as a person. That’s doesn’t necessarily have any implication for the abortion issue, but it’s just silly to pretend the unborn are viewed as “people”.

    Tom, Guess.

  11. Gravatar of Chun Chun
    29. June 2022 at 12:59

    This dilemma might not exist if the US adopted a register-based census.

  12. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 19:40

    What species is it? Is it metabolizing? Is it growing and developing? What makes it not a person? Why do they charge someone killing a pregnant woman with double homicide?

    These are the important questions. You can count things however you chose to count them, as long as it’s consistent. The 16+ population is often used. Someone not actively looking for work the month of the CPS survey is not counted in the labor force. The IRS made a decision you had to be born to be counted. They could have just as easily said, if they are post viability if they wanted to… Problem is that changes every month or year and so isn’t a consistent measure (one of the problems with using that as the line for when abortion is legal and when it’s not).

    Biologically speaking, it’s a unique homo sapien when it has dna that is distinct from both its mother and father. It’s neither, and yet it is alive and it’s species of homo sapien. What else is it if not a person?

    So if I were to stomp on a nest of endangered sea turtle eggs… would u say I was not guilty of violating the endangered species act? Come on.

    Frozen embryos, by the way, are paused people… they are not growing and developing..

  13. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 19:45

    What other specific point in time can you point with scientific evidence as the origin point of a distinct person? The rest are inconsistent and changing, because they are not the true origin..

    You are squirming on this one Scott… follow the science.

  14. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 19:54

    If you were modeling population change over the next year or more, which model would work better, one that accounts for the unborn or one that doesn’t?

    Why? Because reality is such that it is indeed a new member of the human species. Follow the math…

  15. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 19:56

    If an unbiased unstructured AI classifier were fed data on what’s a human being… what do you think it would chose to do?

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2022 at 20:32

    Student, What’s the point of your post? That moral issues can be resolved with definitions?

  17. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 20:35

    That the unborn are intact people.

  18. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 20:36

    What’s your point? That they are not?

  19. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 20:45

    The main point is that once a member of the human species is instantiated, it’s right to exist superceeds the economic or emotional convenience of the parents.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2022 at 20:48

    Student, I couldn’t care less whether they are people or not. That has no bearing on my views on abortion.

    I think you misunderstood the purpose of this post–it’s about the census. In my view, word games have nothing to do with morality. It like when people say “taxation is theft”. Fine, then I favor theft.

  21. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 20:57

    Fair enough. But it means you are ok with someone murdering a person so that they have more money and time. The right to life and liberty be damned…

  22. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 20:58

    You are ok with 60M people being murdered since 1973… please tell me more about the evils of the invasion of Ukraine.

  23. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 21:11

    What right is more fundamental than the right to exist?

  24. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 21:12

    No offense Scott, but you sound a little “final solution” like on this particular issue.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2022 at 21:18

    Student, Not sure what you are trying to accomplish with these posts. Is the goal to convince me to change my mind? Or are you just having fun, like when I do my Trump posts?

  26. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 21:46

    Having fun for sure, but also genuinely perplexed that you as a utilitarian are also pro-choice. Seems impossible to me, which is prolly why it’s so rare.

  27. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. June 2022 at 22:01

    *which is weird that it’s so rare.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. June 2022 at 08:13

    Student, Actually, utilitarians are overwhelmingly pro-choice.

  29. Gravatar of Student Student
    30. June 2022 at 14:44

    I meant to say that. I don’t understand why. How could the sum of the negative impacts on utility ever exceed the positives to the u born. Max is 50/50 split it seems to me. 90% chance the sum of the increase in utility to the unborn > the sum of the decrease in utility to the parents.

    Bryan Kaplan made better points on the matter at your good blog back in 2015 btw…

  30. Gravatar of Student Student
    30. June 2022 at 14:56

    How much richer would we all also be if those 60M were working and reproducing? Honest question.

  31. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    3. July 2022 at 21:22

    MSS1914, ensoulment is an interesting topic, because standard rg Catholic doctrine seems to contradict itself here.

    Mostly because of identical twins: they split after conception and presumably both have get a soul.

    At time of conception it’s not predictable whether identical twins will happen. And thanks to modern technology which puts that decision in the hand of a doctor, if he wishes to interfere,human free will (which Catholics are fond of) interferes with and prediction even more.

    There’s also the opposite problem of two embryos starting as fraternal twins but fusing very soon to become only one baby. Happens more often than you think, because approximately nobody ever runs the tests to check for it.

    I am sure a sufficiently clever theologian can probably come up with an explanation that fits facts and doctrine.

    When I last checked the Catholic church acknowledged the problem, but explicitly didn’t have an official position.

  32. Gravatar of Student Student
    5. July 2022 at 07:23

    Technically ensoulment is not defined doctrine with this as one of the reasons. We know, however, that conception is the biological origin of each human being… we can’t say for certain when ensoulment happens tho. It’s not defined because we don’t know. It’s ok to not know.

    But since there is doubt, it’s a grave sin to even be willing to risk murder in the case…

    Just at it is a grave sin for a ruler to even “deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end”.

  33. Gravatar of Gene Callahan Gene Callahan
    10. July 2022 at 13:27

    This is as silly as arguing children are not people, because
    “In the US, people are allowed to buy alcohol
    In the US, children are not allowed to buy alcohol.
    Therefore, children are not people.“

  34. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. July 2022 at 13:40

    Gene, But people under 21 are not allowed to buy alcohol in the US, so your comment makes no sense.

  35. Gravatar of Gene Callahan Gene Callahan
    10. July 2022 at 17:09

    Scott, in the US, you’re not allowed to count unborn people as part of your household, so your original post makes no sense.

  36. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. July 2022 at 21:19

    Gene You said:

    “you’re not allowed to count unborn people as part of your household”

    Who’s going to stop me? The Census? LOL.

  37. Gravatar of Gene Callahan Gene Callahan
    12. July 2022 at 00:58

    The point is that we know what the census means by its question. If I happen to have 50 people at my house for a party when I’m filling out the census, I don’t put 50 down as the answer. And it’s not because I don’t think the partiers are really people. It’s because I know what kind of answer the census wants.

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