In many ways, the Black Rock City Census every year tells the stories of the Burning Man event’s 70,000+ participants: Who are they — how old, from where? What do they do? Why did they choose to spend their vacations in a dusty, far-away corner of the world?
These are some of the questions I ask when I make new friends on the playa. Lucky for us both, the 2018 Census report is live, and it has all this, plus lots of other fun facts about Burning Man 2018. It also all the serious questions that help Burning Man Project make Burning Man more inclusive, safe, and accessible.
The BRC Census collects this information in two phases. First, we randomly select vehicles entering Black Rock City and ask each participant to fill out a short questionnaire. Second, we ask all Burners to fill out the full Census questionnaire beginning Tuesday after the Man burns (bookmark the link now).
Because not all Burners choose to fill out the full questionnaire (even though it’s a fun 20 minutes!), we use the demographic data from the random sample to adjust the results (in nerdspeak, we weight the data) so that they are representative of everyone at Burning Man.
Just as understanding the 10 Principles can deepen our playa experience, by reading through the Census Report we can immerse ourselves in the questions of who we are and what we want as a community. Below are a few of the things that I found interesting in this year’s Report.
Lots of Returning Burners, Here for Community and Art
Every year, it’s a hot topic of conversation that such a high percentage of participants are virgins. But in 2018, that percentage dropped significantly over previous years, and we saw an influx of participants who have come to Burning Man many times.
In 2018, 31.7% of participants were virgins, compared to 36.2% in 2017. Additionally, the percentage of Burners who’ve been eight to 11 times increased significantly (from 7.6% to 9.3%), as did the percentage of Burners who’ve attended 12–15 burns (from 3.5% to 4.8%) and the percentage who’ve attended more than 15 burns (from 3.6% to 5.0%).
Years Since First Burn
When I saw this, I wondered why so many longtime veterans attended, and my mind went to the passing of Larry Harvey, which reverberated across so much of the Burning Man community.
The responses participants gave for attending in 2018 were somewhat different from years past. Some of the notable increases over 2017 include the responses “to be with friends or like-minded people, or to feel a sense of belonging” and “to see/experience the art” — from 57.7% to 62.1% and from 54.1% to 61.4%, respectively.
Reasons for Going to Black Rock City This Year*
Is Acculturation Working?
Critical to our culture, and the subject of many conversations among community members, are the 10 Principles. If my mentors and campmates hadn’t schooled me on these Principles, I personally don’t think I would have grokked what I was doing out there.
There is widespread agreement among community members that the 10 Principles are an essential reason why the experience is special. Last year showed a significant increase in the already large number of participants who view the principles as very important to creating an authentic Burning Man experience —from 73.3% in 2017 to 77.9% in 2018.
How Essential are the 10 Principles to Creating an Authentic Burning Man Experience?
Burners are Arriving Sooner…
As I’m getting excited about planning for the event, a crucial question is how long I will spend on the playa — how early can I get in (depending on whether I have a Work Access Pass), and how long can I stay? So I’m always interested in how long people spend at the event.
In 2018, the number of people arriving Thursday before the event rose significantly over 2017 (14.6% to 18.3%), and there was a concurrent dip in the percentage of Sunday arrivals (39.9% to 35.6%).
Arrival Date to Black Rock City
…And Staying a Little Later, Longer
On the departure end, we see some interesting fluctuations over the years. In 2018, the percentage of Burners staying until Tuesday or later creeped up a bit after dipping significantly in 2015. Maybe folks were trying to escape the record heat in 2017.
Whatever the reason, 2018 saw the largest percentage of Burners staying 11-12 days (up 1.4 percentage points over 2017) and 12 or more days (up 2.3 percentage points over 2017) since the Census has been collecting generalizable data!
Departure Date from Black Rock City
Length of Stay
This post only scratches the surface of the sociodemographic and cultural insights available in the 2018 Black Rock City Census report, so I highly recommend checking it out. And if all this has piqued your interest in volunteering for Census, click here — we’d love to have you! Hope to meet you all out there in T-minus… not enough days.
Top photo by Joseph “JOBI” Buchman