Insights from the Black Rock City Census 2023 Annual Data Report

The Black Rock City (BRC) Census is a volunteer-led collaborative research project that collects demographic data on, and aims to develop a deeper understanding of, the diverse community that inhabits Black Rock City. This is done annually through a random sample on the playa and an online survey after the event. The process allows statistically robust estimates of the population characteristics and analyzes trends in Black Rock City population over time by comparing data across years to provide insights into how the demographics are shifting. Census is passionate about sharing findings with the Burning Man community and general public through detailed annual reports.

“2023 was a funky year that only brought Burners closer together and strengthened us as a community. As we get ready to head back into the dust in 2024, let’s look back at the wealth of valuable data provided by citizens of Black Rock City in their responses to the 2023 online Census survey, to help us gain a better understanding of who was there and how their experience at Burning Man impacted them both on and off playa.” — Maher Abdel-Sattar (aka Random), BRC Census Assistant Manager

The 2023 Census effort involved over 160 volunteers who completed 543 shifts to collect data from randomly selected participants at entry points including the main gate, airport, and Burner Express Buses. This massive volunteer effort enables statistically robust population estimates for BRC each year. Thank you to every single one of our amazing volunteers for helping us make this happen, including our lead statistician Aaron Shev (Murrs)! We also want to thank the 7,712 Burners who completed the Census online survey and gifted us their data in 2023.

2023 Census data report

We previously published some preliminary 2023 statistics highlighting select demographic information that was collected through our random sample on playa. Now, we are very excited to share the comprehensive and more accurate 2023 adjusted final statistics from our online survey, as summarized in our latest data report. Below are some highlights from the 2023 BRC Census Annual Report you may find interesting. Feel free to explore the entire report for additional details and other awesome findings.

Census volunteers in decorated white lab coats atop the Data Beast, 2023 (Photo by Tammie Bissa Kingsley aka Cinnamon)

Demographics: Who was at Black Rock City in 2023?

The Census data report provides a comprehensive demographic breakdown of BRC’s population. It reveals interesting insights into the age distribution, gender representation, educational background, average income, and geographic origins of BRC citizens. This diversity fosters a rich and inclusive cultural experience that transcends most societal boundaries. There were approximately 77,000 Burners on playa in total in 2023, including 7,712 Burners (about 10%) who completed the Census online survey after the Burn.

Median age: 36 years old

The median age of BRC citizens has been steadily hovering around 35 years of age since we began our trend analysis in 2013. The median age of a BRC citizen in 2023 was 36 years old, compared to a high of 37 years old in 2022 and a low of 33 years old back in 2015.

Current gender: Record percentage of female Burners

For the first time ever, Census data indicate that there was an almost equal proportion of males and females on playa in 2023. Interestingly, our adjusted data suggest that females (49.1%) may have even surpassed the percentage of males (47.9%) on playa in 2023, with the remaining 3% selecting other or no gender identity labels. This is a notable change from previous years where we saw anywhere from 10% to 19% more BRC citizens identifying as male versus female.

Ethnoracial identity: Increased Latino and Asian representation

The number of Burners reporting their ethnoracial background as White (non-hispanic) decreased from 80.5% in 2022 to 78.2% in 2023. The next largest ethnoracial group was Hispanic/Latino, increasing from 9.7% in 2022 to 10.5% in 2023. This was followed by the Asian ethnoracial group, increasing from 7.9% in 2022 to 9.4% in 2023. The remaining groups stayed relatively the same from 2022, with 3.0% Middle Eastern or North African, 2.1% Black (non-Hispanic), 1.2% Native American, and 3.4% other backgrounds in 2023.

Where are Burners from? 

About 40% of Burners traveling to BRC are residents of California (36.0%) and Nevada (4.0%). Other states in the U.S. make up 39.8% of the population, with high representation from New York, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state. Canadians make up 5.6% of the population, and the remaining 14.5% travel to BRC from other countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.

First-timers at BRC: Record high of 43.9% first-year participants (sometimes affectionately referred to as “virgins”)

The proportion of first-year participants reached an all-time high in 2023, where first-time BRC citizens accounted for 43.9% of the total population. This is a significant jump from 28.3% first-year participants in 2022.

Census Lab (bottom left) after the rain, 2023 (Photo by Ashley Strange)

Learning and Practicing New Skills

Black Rock City citizens get to learn and practice a number of new skills during their time on playa ranging from new hobbies to interpersonal skills. Often, Burners are inspired to continue exploring and refining those skills outside of BRC, and that can have a positive impact on their daily lives.

Finding inspiration

Crafting and art creation was the skill that over half (59.4%) of BRC citizens were inspired to continue learning and developing off playa. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness (48.7%) was a close second, followed by self-care strategies (39.2%) and survival skills (38.4%). 

Application of new skills

In 2023, 60.2% of BRC citizens utilized their newly learned skills to create things for themselves or their family off playa and 36.8% leveraged those skills to create things at home that they plan to bring to BRC in the future. Also, 32.9% applied those skills to create things for their home communities and 23.3% taught those skills to others in their respective communities.

Impact of new skills

As a result of the joy and/or growth achieved from continuing to learn and practice new skills acquired on playa, 69.9% of BRC citizens felt more fulfilled as individuals in their daily lives. Furthermore, practicing those skills led 36.4% of BRC citizens to develop new and fulfilling relationships in their home communities.

Random sampling shift lead training at Census Lab, 2023 (Photo by Maher Abdel-Sattar, aka Random)

Embracing the 10 Principles

The 10 Principles sit at the core of Burning Man culture. The data report sheds light on how participants embrace and embody Radical Inclusion, Radical Self-reliance, Communal Effort, Gifting, and more during the event. It showcases the incredible spirit of collaboration, artistry, and interactivity that pervades Black Rock City.

Importance of the 10 Principles on playa

BRC citizens report annually that the 10 Principles are essential to creating an authentic Burning Man experience. In 2023, 93.5% agreed that the 10 Principles continue to be essential (24.1%) or very essential (69.4%).

Applying the 10 Principles in everyday life

Even in the default world, Burners continue to embrace the 10 Principles in everyday life. Radical self-reliance (54.2%), leave no trace (40.6%), and radical inclusion (38.8%) were the top 3 Principles that Burners reported practicing most commonly outside of BRC in 2023.

Spirit of volunteerism

The Burning Man experience inspires many to volunteer beyond their time at BRC. On average, about half of participants (52.6% in 2023) reported being inspired to volunteer, donate, or get involved in other ways after leaving BRC.

Environmental Sustainability: Leave No Trace!

An essential aspect of the Burning Man ethos is the commitment to leaving no trace. In 2019, Burning Man Project made a commitment to be carbon negative by 2030, as described in the Environmental Sustainability Roadmap. To meet this ambitious goal, significant shifts have been made to work towards greater sustainability — both by the nonprofit and by the Burning Man community.

Importance of environmental sustainability efforts by Burning Man Project

The majority of BRC citizens (88.1%) reported sustainability efforts by Burning Man Project to be essential (62.0%) or very important (26.1%) in 2023.

Noticeable 2023 environmental sustainability efforts in BRC

BRC citizens noticed camps increasing their adoption of solar power and battery technologies (42.4%), in addition to other efforts to reduce their environmental impact (24.7%) in 2023. About a quarter of Burners (25.7%) also appreciated that the Man was solar-powered in 2023.

Census volunteers checking in for their shift at Census Lab, 2023 (Photo by Maher Abdel-Sattar, aka Random)

Radical Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (R.I.D.E.)

Another important initiative of Burning Man Project is Radical Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (R.I.D.E.). The cross-departmental Stewardship Group prioritizes, manages, and advocates for R.I.D.E. work across Burning Man Project staff, BRC, and Burner communities beyond the playa.

R.I.D.E. in action at BRC

In 2023, 38.0% of BRC citizens reported noticing more diversity among Burners on playa, 20.4% saw art projects related to diversity and radical inclusion, and 28.4% applauded theme camps for being welcoming and celebrating minorities and under-represented communities.

Personal contributions to creating a more diverse and welcoming BRC

In 2023, 26.8% of BRC citizens were part of camps or art projects that welcomed new members from under-represented communities. Also, 25.4% reported visiting the expanded gayborhoods in the 4:30 and 7:30 sectors. Off playa, 45.9% of Burners stated that they actively support diversity and inclusion in their home communities.

Come to Your Census!

We hope you enjoyed learning more about BRC’s evolving population based on data collected by the Black Rock City Census in 2023. If you are interested in volunteering with the Census, please visit census.burningman.org for more information or contact us at census@burningman.org if you have any questions. If you are planning on being a citizen of BRC in 2024, please remember to gift us your data by completing our online survey! The Census online survey will go live Tuesday, September 4, 2024 at census.burningman.org.


Aerial cover photo of Black Rock City, 2023 (Photo by Jamen Percy)

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.

15 Comments on “Insights from the Black Rock City Census 2023 Annual Data Report

  • mike says:

    Would be interesting to know burners average income
    in the default world.

    Report comment

    • Chairman Meow says:

      It’s in there, under Demographics. Click on the link to the full census.

      Report comment

    • DC says:

      Good point.
      I agree that data could be interesting, but the median and IQR given by the shape of the data makes more sense than an average skewed by outliers.
      With inflation, affording more than rent and other bills makes paying for activities on higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy become hard.
      I would be glad to find a year-round community that I could VOLUNTARILY join without having to go tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars deeper into debt where I could contribute the education and experiences that I’ve already attained without the bureaucracy of the HR world being a solid barrier to entry.
      We need to build connections for access, not more walls for control.

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    • Random says:

      You’ll find the answer to your question in figures 2.2.6 and 2.2.7 within the BRC Census Annual Report at https://blackrockcitycensus.org

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    • Knot-O says:

      It’s in the full report in the Demographics section.

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    • Pi says:

      2.2.6 and 2.2.7 in the linked report.

      Report comment

    • MansoonB says:

      No, that’s a terrible way to gain any cultural context. All you need is one Elon Musk in there — and he does go to Burning Man — and you could have 3 thousand people living well below the poverty line and it still would completely skew the results to make it look like the entire group is multi-millionaires. You can take a thousand wealthy people and 80,000 middle income or low income people, but an “average salary” pool will make it look like everybody there is a wealthy silicon valley tech Bros, some of whom may have money and wealth in stocks, not in income. “The average burner is mega wealthy” (if you ignore the fact that it only applies to 1 in 80) It’s just the way “average salary” math works. I had a campmate who’s a very good buddy of mine that I visit in San francisco, but he made about three times as a city clerk for the transit office as I made in journalism, but we basically lived about the same, because I live in a much more reasonably priced city. In a place with two other guys, one of whom makes twice what I make (and I eat from a food bank, mostly), but never has any money because of his bills. And let’s not even bring into play the fact that Burners are a worldwide community. I’ve met and been campmates with any number of people there from Canada, Germany, Russia, China, Turkey, Israel, Japan. Are you going to get an accurate reading from their income in another country and translate that and will it be from at the time they report their salaries or the time they bought the tickets?

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    • Space Master says:

      They have that on their full census report, which can be found here:
      https://blackrockcitycensus.org/sociodemo

      Report comment

    • Hero says:

      yesm but I’m going to guess its kind of all over the place. might be better to look at distributions by income levels, like 0-40k, 40-80,80-160,160-300, 300+

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    • Poncho says:

      Table 2.2.6 in the report has income distribution. On average, burners are high.

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    • Chipper says:

      Check out the report (linked in the article) for this and more. We have tracked these data and for many years. Interesting, indeed.

      Report comment

  • Allowiscious says:

    Great information. thanks much!

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  • Estelle Drinkhaus says:

    One week of perfect weather and experience……
    Then it rained……the media put a negative narrative
    on the situation…….while in our camp of 10 of my favorite people in the world, we thrived and enjoyed
    each others company, pulled trucks out of the mud,
    and basically were grateful we were all retired and
    didn’t have to go anywhere. We adapted and had
    a great Burn. Grateful we stayed long enough for
    the Burning of the Man. Got married at the Man!!!

    Report comment

  • Katie says:

    Thanks to the Census Team for being so amazing – so much hard work contributes to this awesome data!

    Report comment

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