CENSUS Day will soon be upon us.

There are going to be questions on our name, age, sex, ethnicity, employment and relationships.

For the first time we'll be asked our veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

But be assured, the object of the once in a decade exercise isn't to collect detailed information about individuals or to uncover your deepest secrets.

It's simply a head count of the country's population as a whole.

The reason the census takes place on a set day - Sunday, March 21 this year - is that listing everyone by name, wherever they may be on a single night is seen as the most efficient way to count everyone once and to avoid duplication.

So why do we need a census?

A Government spokesperson said: "The census is vital to all of us.

"It helps us understand what our society needs now and what it’s likely to need in the future.

"The information it collects helps plan and fund services in your area. This could include transport, education and healthcare.

"Charities also use census information to help get the funding they need. Businesses use it to decide where to set up, which creates job opportunities."

We're all supposed to complete the census - the last one in 2011 was completed by 94 per cent of the population. If you don't, or if you supply false information, you could be fined up to £1,000.

That said, you'll be able to skip a number of voluntary questions if you so wish.

The census has been held in England and Wales - and separately for Scotland - every ten years since 1801 apart from in 1941, when the country had other things on its mind during the Second World War.

Until the end of the 1700s, there had been widespread resistance to the idea of what was viewed as Government prying into the private affairs of its people.

But along came demographer Thomas Malthus, who argued that the country faced disaster as there would soon be insufficient food and other resources to meet the needs of a fast-growing population.

In England and Wales, overseers of the poor, assisted by constables, tithingmen, headboroughs and other officers of the peace collected information from every household in March 1801

The data harvested and processed using pens and paper by an army of clerks showed Great Britain's population to be nine million.

Technology was used for the first time in 1911, with punch cards, mechanical sorting and counting machines, while computers were introduced in the 1961 Census.

It wasn't until 1841 that the head of each household was given a form to complete, listing the details of everyone in the property of a given date - a method which forms the basis of how the census is completed in modern times.

There had of course been previous surveys in this country, such as the one ordered by William the Conqueror in 1086 that led to the production of the Domesday Book, detailing life in villages across the county.

The book did not provide an accurate count of the population, rather it established who owned what in order to tax those possessions.

The lesser known Hundred Rolls inquiry into landholding was carried out in 1279 under Edward I to chart, but nothing was done with the results.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, bishops were responsible for counting the number of families in their dioceses.

But Britain, fearing vital information could fall into enemy hands, was slow to follow the likes of Quebec, which held its first official census in 1661, Iceland (1703) and Sweden (1749).

But the country finally relented in 1801 when it was clear that nobody had any idea how many people lived here.

To show just how slow we were, consider the Babylonians, who in 4000BC had a census to help work out how much food was needed to feed the population.

Egypt carried out censuses from around 2500BC to calculate the size of the workforce needed to construct their pyramids and to share out the land after the annual floods around the Nile.

China was also quick out of the blocks, conducting censuses from around the same time. By 2AD it revealed the country's population to be 57.67million living in 12.36million homes.

The Romans held their censuses every five years, when everyone was ordered to return to their place of birth as part of a population count, which explains what Mary and Joseph were doing in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus.

The Babylonians may have beaten us to it by the odd millennium, but they'd have struggled to keep pace with us ahead of next month's census. Census 2021 is going to be the first digital-first census.

An Office for National Statistics spokesperson said: "It’s easy to do and can be done on any device.

"You’ll get an access code from us.

"Simply go online and enter the code into our secure website to get started.

"We’ll be in contact nearer the time to let you know what you need to do."

Take that Babylonians!