Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The role of statistics and the official view

The last complete statistical record of the Habsburg Monarchy was made in 1910. The huge quantities of data collected present a graphic image of the condition of the Dual Monarchy on the eve of the First World War and reflect the great variety as well as the enourmous differences and appalling inequalities between the regions.

Starting in 1869/70, censuses were carried out in the Dual Monarchy roughly every 10 years. The dualistic structure of the country meant a dual approach here as well. The problem was that the Imperial-Royal Statistical Central Commission responsible for the Austrian half of the Empire in part used different survey criteria to those used by the Royal Hungarian Central Statistical Office.

The most important difficulty in this respect was that in Cisleithania the census asked for the everyday language, while in Hungary it asked for the mother tongue. The position of the Viennese authority, which is still disputed today, was that the census was nothing more than an official survey of the everyday languages and the data was not intended to be used to represent the situation of the various national groups, which, however, was what happened in fact, since there was otherwise no alternative data whatsoever available to the same extent.

In addition, there was also criticism of the fact that it was only possible to select from a list of officially defined customary languages. Thus for instance Hungarian was not regarded as customary in the Austrian half of the Empire, and therefore there were no details about any Hungarian-speaking population group in Cisleithania. In addition, smaller ethnic groups were often at a disadvantage, since Ladins and Friulians were subsumed under "Italians", Slovaks under "Czechoslovaks".

The phenomenon of multilingualism, which was relatively common in Austria-Hungary, was also ignored, and for this reason anyone who was multilingual had to choose one language. Thus for instance a Viennese of Czech origin found himself faced by the dilemma of what language he should state – his Czech mother tongue or German, which he used in his contacts with his surroundings? There was also a strong pressure to assimilate to the dominant languages such as German, Hungarian or Italian, since social improvement was often conditional on a commitment to these languages, which led to the marginalisation of the language groups that were weaker in terms of quantity or social status. The class society with its rigid social hierarchy also exercised pressure, and thus individuals who were dependent on their employers were often "robbed" of their official ethnic identity.

The situation of the Viennese Czechs and Slovaks can be cited as an example of the dubious nature of the results. In the 1910 census just under 100,000 persons in Vienna claimed to use Czechoslovak as their everyday language. However, the actual number of Czechs amongst the residents of Vienna was probably higher, since after 1918 considerably more Viennese identified themselves with the Czechoslovak linguistic nation. In the immediate post-war years, roughly 150,000 people resident in Vienna – hence significantly more than the number that had identified themselves as Czechs and Slovaks only a few years previously – were repatriated as ethnic Czechoslovaks and adopted Czechoslovak citizenship.

The official view of the situations of the nationalities in the Monarchy also depended on the willingness to cooperate on the part of the local authorities that supplied the primary data. The bureaucratic-centralistic approach often collided with the views of the local decision-makers. Particularly in areas with a mixed population, and hence the scene of nationalistic agitation, there were objections against the borders of the census districts. And not least of all, the incorruptibility of the data was clouded by manipulation. In part, the statisticians made corrections and had the counts repeated or re-analysed if they encountered inconsistencies.

Translation: David Wright


Brix, Emil: Die Umgangssprachen in Altösterreich zwischen Agitation und Assimilation. Die Sprachenstatistik in den zisleithanischen Volkszählungen 1880 bis 1910 (Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Neuere Geschichte Österreichs 72), Wien 1982

Rumpler, Helmut: Die Gesellschaft der Habsburgermonarchie aus der Perspektive der Bevölkerungs-, Siedlungs-, Erwerbs-, Bildungs- und Verkehrsstatistik 1910, in: Rumpler, Helmut/Seger, Martin (Hrsg): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band IX/2: Soziale Strukturen, Wien 2010, 9–26

Wolf, Michaela: Die vielsprachige Seele Kakaniens. Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in der Habsburgermonarchie 1848 bis 1918, Wien u. a. 2012

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    “Viribus unitis” or prison of nations?

    The multi-ethnic Austria-Hungary formed a relatively stable environment for the co-existence of the many ethnic communities. The much-vaunted “unity in diversity” was in fact overshadowed by numerous inequalities. This was illustrated above all in the differing weight of the various language groups involved in political and economic rule. These inequalities were increasingly challenged by the disadvantaged nationalities. As a result, the nationality issue dominated political affairs, leading to destabilisation of the Monarchy.


  • Development

    National politics in the multi-ethnic empire

    At the start of the nation-building era, the Habsburg empire was a breeding ground for the development of national concepts for the peoples of Central Europe. Later, the state framework of the Dual Monarchy was seen increasingly as an obstacle to full national development.