2016 Black Rock City Census Data Released

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you consider yourself “a Burner.” Maybe you’re in the 4% of our population who have attended more than 11 Burns. Maybe you’ve never been to Black Rock City. Regardless, you seem to be curious about Burning Man.

Who are Burners?
Where are we from?
What do we have in common?
How are we different from each other?
How have we changed?

If you wonder about these things and have an affinity for numbers, we’ve got good news. The latest Black Rock City Census data is now available! If you attended the Burn in 2016 we hope you were one of thousands of participants who filled out our online survey after returning from the playa. If so, way to go! You helped make our analytical dreams come true so we can provide statistically reliable and valid estimates concerning the BRC population.

If you went to Burning Man in 2016 but did not fill out the online survey, please consider telling us why by filling out this short survey (yes, I see the irony here).

Did you know... the last few years there were three times as many Canadians on the playa than in previous years. People living in Canada made up 6.7% of the Black Rock City population in 2016. Welcome Canucks!

Also interesting… over 70% of Burners do not identify with a particular religion; however, 46.5% consider themselves spiritual.

“Sonder” and baby Austen at the Census Lab, 2016 (photo by “Chipper” McKay)

Burners are not getting any older… or younger. The median age in Black Rock City has been 33 or 34 years old for the past four years. Census Lab had the pleasure of hosting a three-week old newborn baby Burner volunteer this past year. Only one half of one percent (0.5%) of the population in 2016 was under the age of 13.

Burners like to learn. 43.1% of 2016 attendees had a Bachelor’s degree — more than double the US average according to 2015 US Census data (US Census Bureau. "CPS Historical Time Series Tables."). 31.3% of 2016 attendees have a Graduate degree (compared to a 12% US average in 2015).

Would you like to know more interesting facts about our fabulous, fun culture? If so, you have several options:

  • For a summary report mostly focused on demographic data and Burning Man-centric information, check out the 2016 Census AfterBurn Report.
  • For data nerds who want to see visualizations for nearly every question on the 2016 online survey, check out the full 2016 Population Analysis.
  • For übernerds who just can’t be sated, consider joining the Census team! Fill out the Burner volunteer survey and check the box that says “Census.” You’ll be added to our mailing list to hear what we’re up to on and off playa and how you can help.


Written by “Chipper” McKay
Edited by Sarah “Picky” Williamson, Dana “DV8” DeVaul, and Gretchen Bennett

Top image: Playa by air, 2016 (photo by “Chipper” McKay)

About the author: Census Team

Census Team

The Census Lab is a volunteer team of information geeks, academic researchers, students, and general data nerds who have surveyed Black Rock City (BRC) residents since 2002.

31 Comments on “2016 Black Rock City Census Data Released

  • Wallitoes says:

    Thank you for sharing this, always love to see what the demographics of the city are like. I do have a slight qualm around the statement above “Burners like to learn.”

    There are a million factors that contribute to this, but calling it that we “like to learn” is reductive and ignores the context around this: that the burn is still 79% white, the incredibly high costs of attending the burn even when you go with a small, not expensive camp, etc. Saying that we like to learn while insinuating that the population at large does not by pointing to graduate degrees is dangerous and masks larger issues with the way we have self-selected.

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    • Average White Girl says:

      Blah blah blah . ALWAYS somebody bitching about someone or SOME NONSENSE . I sure do hate you have a problem with the diverse race overall at the Playa . We had blacks,whites, asians AND latino hawtness in our camp of just under fifty . ALL of us were Burners and we didnt care about color of skin-we didnt before , either. Ages 18-60 .
      You want more diversity at the burn? Stop complaining about the census, and get your bitchy ass out and bring “what was missing that made you sad” . Just once can the BMORG post one thing with out a MUD SLINGING session ? They work hard .

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      • Eno says:

        Maybe question why you are reacting defensively only because someone acknowledged that access to BM is unequal between racial groups.

        Dr. Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility”:

        “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”

        Pdf here: http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/view/249/116

        Summarising article by the same author here: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/

        Another excerpt:

        “The following are examples of the kinds of challenges that trigger racial stress for white people:
        – Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);
        – People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race);
        – People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort);
        – People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve us);
        – A fellow white not providing agreement with one’s racial perspective (challenge to white solidarity);
        – Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence);
        – Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);
        – An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);
        – Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority);
        – Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality).”

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      • BeeBob says:

        Eno-
        Access to everything on the planet is unequal to ALL groups, all the time. Access to Burning Man is equal to anyone who saves up two grand and is lucky enough to get a ticket in the sale. Please stop with the “whitey is screwing everyone else”. Be the change you want to see.

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      • Good News Bear says:

        Re: Eno

        I count 5 examples from her list that may have upset you. Did I miss any?

        FWIW: I don’t believe it is a Bad Thing™ to share ideas. It’s kind of central to Burning Man. Not sure why you don’t want AWG to speak her truth. Interesting though…

        – Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);
        – A fellow white (person) not providing agreement with one’s racial perspective (challenge to white solidarity);
        – Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence);
        – Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);
        – An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);

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      • Good News Bear says:

        Whoops. Switched AWG and Eno. Guess that is par-for-the-course ;)

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    • Lily the Playapup says:

      So sponsor a burner scholarship for some kids of non1white backgrounds.

      Burners do things that need doing. Put your money where your mouth is and stop complaining like a RaveBro whose black water tank filled up on Tuesday.

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    • Jordancc says:

      I don’t see that the statement “We like to learn” in any way insinuates that folks outside the group mentioned do not. I don’t think the majority of people would read it that way either.
      Furthermore, pointing a finger at a volunteer *census taker* does less than nothing to address this issue. You are a Burner. Consider creating a project that addresses your concerns and invite our participation. You’ll be in good company.

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    • Lucy says:

      Thank-you for your comment. I’m astounded by the flak it received. Of course the community needs to remain self-aware. As much as I love BM, I find a certain amount of self-congratulations amongst its population that is off-putting. Yes, it’s expensive and heterogeneous in certain ways. It’s indulgent in ways that most of the world’s population couldnt even imagine. Attendees are the world’s most priveledged. Of course their priveledge is related to their education. Please don’t pretend otherwise in the perverse interest of preserving some spiritual ideal that will inevitable implode. Burning Man is wonderful, but it’s never been for everyone and that is part of all Burner’s experience of it.

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    • lurker says:

      Why do we still get stuff like this?

      Yes, the burn is still 79% white. But, gods above, can anyone truly say it’s from lack of trying or lack of inclusivity, tolerance, or a commitment to diversity?

      Burners have been trying to attract an ever more diverse crowd for decades.

      At some point we have to recognise that maybe the people who don’t attend just aren’t into the idea enough. That it’s not about race. That it’s about people deciding that they want to do something else.

      The Black Rock City is the most inclusive place on the planet. You can be –literally– anything and you will be welcomed with open arms as if everyone has been waiting to see you.

      And some people don’t give a crap.

      They’d rather do something else that week.

      Accept that and stop trying to make people feel guilty because they’re not trying to force people who don’t want to be at BRC to come.

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  • Census Team says:

    Wallitoes makes some good points. “Highest degree achieved” is not the same as “Enjoyment of learning.” Additionally, this data point alone cannot explain reasons for differences from other populations. Many factors make education more easily achievable by some groups than by others. The hope is that looking at this information along with other data we collect can help us start to understand more. Census researchers are actively working to do this!

    Saying “Burners like…” is generalizing about the population of Black Rock City — a population of 70,000 who certainly cannot be described simply. There are other Census data suggesting Burners value learning though! As an example, 66.3% of 2016 Black Rock City residents left feeling inspired to learn or practice their art creation skills (Population Analysis, page 43).

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  • Parsec says:

    Very fun stuff and helpful to communicate about our potential volunteer base for BWB projects!

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  • Kris's krass says:

    I didn’t fill out the cencus because I didn’t find it easy to fill out on my smart phone and it kept making me restart it . After 13 times I gave up .

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    • Census Team says:

      Thank you so much for trying and for your feedback. Unfortunately, our multi-page survey does not work well on smart phones. We recommend using a computer to complete it if possible.

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      • Tonka says:

        Perhaps in the future someone might be able to create an app to make it easier to collect data and fill out the survey. You could update it every year with app updates. There’s probably many people amongst our population that would be willing to in part or fully create the app for free. You might ask around?

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  • Steve Gardner says:

    When we arrived, we asked for Census papers to complete, but were denied saying it was a random selection, so our group were not included in the report. I guess we looked too “normal” if that;’s possible at Burning Man?!?

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    • Census Team says:

      Hi Steve. Thank you for wanting to “Come to your Census” and for sharing your experience! The Census used to be a paper survey filled out on-playa, however the results from that method were never as accurate as we would have liked. With our new methodology we collect a small amount of data on-playa from randomly selected Burners. We then invite ALL Burners to complete an online survey after the event. The “randomness” of the on-playa data collection means everyone entering the event has an equal probability of being selected — it doesn’t have anything to do with how people look. To learn more about how this process works, click the link in the above article where it says “statistically reliable and valid estimates”.

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  • Hank says:

    The one statistic I was most looking forward to was glossed over.
    The breakdown of attendees’ ages over 40 years old.
    As an over-40-er, I’m curious about that specifically.

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    • Hi Hank. Page 15 of the Population Analysis gives a general breakdown by age, however visualizations get harder to read as the number of categories increase, which is why we use broad categories when possible in our reports. That said, I too was interested in more detail about this, as my 70-year old dad is coming to the Burn for the first time this year. This puts him in the oldest 1%! To provide more detail, 2016 data shows Burners age 40-49 made up 15.4% of the 2016 population, 50-59: 10.7%, 60-69: 5.3%, and Burners 70 years or older made up just 1.1% of the population.

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  • alan fry says:

    would love to come while i am still alive, how do i meet people in london who are going?

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  • Wally Glenn says:

    I know at least two guys has been to every burn. It’s possible neither of those two filled out the census. I am wondering how many people who participated in every burn answered the census or if you break out continuous streaks in a graph?

    Furthermore, I am wondering if there is a participation cluster. Do people tend to go for three years and stop, five years and stop? skip two years and go again?

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    • Census Team says:

      Hi Wally,

      Because the confidence intervals get larger when we’re looking at smaller proportions of the population, we don’t tend to drill down quite far enough to report on the small number of people who have attended every single Burn. You can take a look at our methodology post (linked in the original article) to learn more about how we collect data.

      Your question about participation clusters is an interesting one. We’ll add it to our list of potential areas for further analysis. Maybe you’ll see a blog post about it someday!

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  • KB says:

    I’ve been 10 times. Skipped a handful of years. Filled out one census. Newbs tend to participate in the census more the seasoned burners. I think those number are inaccurate in many ways. And besides, who gives a shit? This event has gotten way to self involved, self righteous, and filled with phony holy rollers. Spiritual bypassers. It’s an f’n party. Always has been.

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  • Rae Russ says:

    Would love to see the census include questions related to how an individual actually was able to score a ticket to the event. Given the Gordian knot of of what the ticket sales now represents perhaps there might be shards of information to tease out so that access is more equitable than it actually is. Hopefully then a concerted effort might come into place that insures that the current tiered system is done away with for good.

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    • Census Team says:

      Hi Rae,

      We do ask participants where they purchased their tickets, and how much they paid. For that data, take a look at pages 99 and 100 of the full Population Analysis linked in Chipper’s article. I hope that helps to answer your questions!

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  • Privacy Nerd says:

    The links for the reports lead to a “Google Drive” that wants me to log in to Google in order to download it? Surely BMorg has a website where you could publish these as ordinary PDFs so that anybody can download them — without identifying themselves to Go Ogle’s mass surveillance.

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    • Census Team says:

      Hi Privacy Nerd,

      I just double-checked the permissions, and I can view and download them just fine without being logged in. Sorry, but the best advice I can give you is to try again – the permissions on both documents are set to allow viewing and downloading without logging in.

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  • Farflung says:

    Census. Right. It took me four clicks through four pages to get to a program my work computer won’t let me download. All I wanted to know was how many goddamned people were there. Is that too much to ask? Maybe put it on the homepage banner: 2016: 75,003 burners!

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