BRC Census on the Burning Man Journal

The BRC Census blog has moved! From now on, you can find us at

For information about our department and the 2015 AfterBurn report, check out one of our first journal posts here.

For information about volunteering with BRC Census, visit our Volunteer Resources page here.


Correction to 2012 financial impact in Nevada

About a year ago, the Black Rock City Census reported that the economic impact of Burning Man participant spending in the state of Nevada was in the range of around $5M. A few months ago, we published our findings from the 2013 Burn which concluded that the projected spending of Burning Man participants in the state of Nevada coming to and from the event in the late summer of 2013 was around $55M.

A reader of this blog post pointed out the broad discrepancy in these figures which caused me to go back and look at our reporting from that period. In fact, I realized I had made a simple copy/paste error when working on that part of the 2012 report. I am including the full data in this posting to set the record straight. 

Illustrates the projected spending of Burning Man participants from 2012 to 2013

Projected spending of Burning Man participants from 2012 to 2013

The corrected figure for 2012 spending was roughly $43.5 Million dollars of spending by participants to and from the event, significantly more than the number published in this blog a year ago. 

This figure also reveals a 26% growth in amount of spending by participants in Nevada year over year. About 20% of this growth can be attributed to just the larger number of people coming to the event in 2013. However, there still is a significant 6% growth in spending beyond that indicating that Burners are spending more per individual.

95% confidence interval in projected spending

95% confidence interval in projected spending

These projections are derived from our weighted survey of participants. As such, there is a margin of error which I’ve illustrated in a plot in the graph above. The take aways are that the event is a significant and growing impact to the economic well being of northern Nevada. 

I apologize for the error and want to thank Katrina Raenell of the Reno Gazette Journal for bringing this to our attention. 

Scribble (Black Rock City Census)

How to recognize a Black Rock City Census volunteer


Census Volunteers after sampling traffic in 2013

Hint: It’s the lab coat


As we get ready for the playa, our sampling pencils ready, our data entry fingers limber and our lab hosting notes perfected, we must remember one of the most important components of being a Census Lab volunteer…


Census Volunteer Ruby Laser Jules at the Tuesday dawn sampler shift in 2012



Traditional white lab coats are our uniform! White lab coats are how everyone on the Playa knows we are traffickers in important data; scientists busy at work in the laboratory of the demographic; Burners on a mission to learn the who, what and why of BRC residents.


Census Volunteer Annelise sampling in 2013



Indiana sporting the traditional Census Sampler fashions in 2013

In the spirit of radical self expression, this is also an opportunity for Census Lab volunteers to augment their own white lab coat with some personality. Each coat gets the always classic, BRC Census iron-on patch. But for the truly creative, our guidelines are simply that it must be, at its core, a white lab coat. Hot pink and black are acceptable colors for accents. No other hue is allowed.


Anna accessorizing with eyewear and a fetching cap in 2013








Look out for us in the entry lanes at this years event.  Or swing by the Census Lab to see data from prior years.


Scribble after a dusty sampling shift in 2012

Scribble after a dusty sampling shift in 2012

Or volunteer by filling out a Burning Man Volunteer Questionnaire and check the box for “Census.” We still have a few slots left for Random Sampler’s, Fun Interactors, Data Entry Wizards and Lab Hosts. If you like data, if you like helping out Burning Man, if you like interacting with arriving participants, if you like freaky-geeking your style, come join us on the Playa!


Core Crew shows off 2013 fashions

Core Crew shows off 2013 fashions

Comparison: Voting Burners

Something that makes me proud to call myself a Burner is the participatory aspect of the event – from planning and transportation to building and removing all evidence of Black Rock City after the event. I would venture to say that these data further support my belief that Burners are citizens who turn their ideas and beliefs into actions.


In comparing the 2012 and 2013 Burners, there was a very small increase in those who are not eligible to vote in the United States (US). My assumption is that most of those not eligible would be from another country, so the increase of over 12,000 Burners between 2012 and 2013 may very well be American citizens.


The trend seems to continue as around 12,000 more Burners in 2013 have also voted in at least one election, though this doesn’t imply they vote regularly – the following graph shows US voters who voted in any of the last four elections.


Between the 2012 and 2013 Burns, the largest growth was in voters participating in all four of the last elections (9,000+)! The only decline was in those who voted in only 1 of the last 4 elections. Overall, most Burners in both years displayed voted in all four of the last four elections (the number of people voting in none of the last 4 elections remains the same as the graph above).


So does this mean Burners are also activists? What about their political leanings? Personally, I feel that a trip to the playa is the best rejuvenation for political disenfranchisement, so I would explain the increase in US voters as a need for a temporary Utopia and escape. What do you think?

Written by: Tabicat
Edited by: Wendi Corbin Goulette

Comparison: Peak Populations in 2012 and 2013

Each year, Burning Man draws more and more attention. As a result, Black Rock City has seen a drastic increase in attendance almost every year. As shown below, the increase in attendees from 2012 to 2013 was nearly 24%, over thirteen thousand more Playa inhabitants from one year to the next! 


Though I have no doubt every Burner would love to arrive on day one and plant roots in the dust until they’re forcefully booted, many times Burners’ default lives prevent such a long excursion. The vast majority of arrivals occur on Sunday and Monday, slowly diminishing through Friday, with a few lagging far behind and coming in on Saturday. Departures begin ramping up on Friday, with a larger occurrence on Saturday, but then jump to peak immediately on Sunday, continuing through Monday, during what is referred to as “exodus.” In 2012, more people left on Monday than on Sunday, and the reverse was true in 2013. I’m curious to see what 2014 brings and if that ratio will become a trend or if we will even see an increase in “early” departures.


Now that we’ve looked at how many people are coming to Burning Man and how long they are staying, let’s take a peek at how they are arriving. Are people ride sharing, picking up passengers, or loading their cars full of food and sparkly things instead people? 


Our data shows that the vast majority of folks are carting in only themselves and a bestie; this is true for both 2012 (blue) and 2013 (pink). Chances are they needed the space for their evaporation equipment, their yurt, and their costume closets – don’t judge – a Nissan Cube only has so much space! My most favorite fact in this graph is that 1,686 people came through the gates in a vehicle carrying 20 or more humans. Hats off to you all and your busloads!

Written by: Wendi Corbin Goulette
Edited by: Tabicat

RV-ness: Who Stays in the RVs at Black Rock City?

There’s a lot of talk at the event and in Burning Man internet communities about RVs. They are much-discussed and occasionally maligned. For some Burners, it’s a matter of necessity, for others it’s simply comfort, with probably a big fuzzy line between the two. I was curious what we could learn from our data about those who stay in RVs at the event.

Who stays in RVs? If you’re like me, you might have guessed that there was a stronger correlation between “RV-ness” (the tendency to come to the event in an RV) and certain political affiliations, income, or perhaps having children (and the ensuing need to have a more stable home base) than between other types of lodging at the event and those variables. Well, if you were like me, you’d be partially right. Let’s examine some data:


This chart shows us that the strongest predictor of RV-ness is playa age, specifically having fewer burns under your belt and especially being a virgin!  This surprised me: I would think that virgins might be more likely to try to tough it out for a few years before deciding that Burning Man is a big enough part of their life that they want to invest in a nicer home for the playa.  However, the data suggest that virgins have heard of the dust and wind and prefer to weather the ups and downs of the playa in an RV.  Not shown here is also a greater tendency to listen to BMIR and a greater tendency to be married (at least sometimes) if you camp in an RV.

The Y-axis on this chart is a “weight” variable summed up for all the survey responses. If you divide the weight by total number of survey responses gives you the weighted percentage.

RV-ness is NOT correlated with political affiliation, and though the chart might appear to suggest it, it’s not related strongly to income.  There are more people with RVs who have incomes over $35,000 simply because there are more people across the board (regardless of camping status) with incomes over $35,000. RV campers are also no more likely than others to have 1 or more children in their vehicle at the gate, or to have a larger number of family members at the burn. 

Written by: Steven Crane aka Indiana

Edited by: Tabicat

2012-2013 Comparison: Virgins

Say the word “virgin” in the presence of any preteen and you’ll likely be witness to a round of snickering, but say the same word in a tent full of Burners and you’ll probably hear a lot of snickering.

Alright, not really. While Burners are not immune to behaving as though we were a pack of adolescents, our usage of the term is a bit less sexual in nature than the normally intended meaning, and is usually is not accompanied by giggles.

The definition of the word “virgin” is: a person who has never had sexual intercourse. Burners use the term in a more mild manner; when you are referred to as a Burning Man Virgin (Birgin, to some), it simply means you have never been to Burning Man before.

When comparing 2012 to 2013, we found that the ratio of virgins to non-virgins remained fairly static. In 2012, around 37% of polled attendees were virgins, compared with approximately 40% in 2013.

What do you think this will look like in future years, do you think the ratio will remain somewhat constant or will it veer sharply in one direction or another?

Written by: Wendi Corbin Goulette
Edited by: Tabicat

Comparisons: Country of Origin – USA vs. Foreign

Burners arrive at Black Rock City from near and far, some travelling from as far as Asia and others arriving from neighboring Gerlach, Nevada.

But how many of Black Rock City denizens are residents of other countries?
With the rise in total population in 2013, the number of US residents in the city also rose, with a much smaller increase in those from other countries. In 2013, 82 percent of those surveyed were US residents, up from 76.8 percent in 2012; 18 percent were residents of another country, down from almost a quarter (23.2%) of Black Rock City residents in 2012.
Since the numbers coming from abroad were relatively constant, year over year, the change in the percent of foreign citizens could be from the growing prevalence of international regional events, or due to changes in ticketing policies which may have made the extra late tickets less of an option for international Burners.

Written by: Betzle
Edited by: Tabicat

Identity: LGBT

Black Rock City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Burners are 15.4% of the overall population, but that data alone cannot paint the wider panorama that is gender and sexual orientation on the Playa. Remember as you review the information that both gender and LGBT status is self identified, and that these questions were asked of all Burners, not just the subsection of those identifying as LGBT.

Of all females, 15.6% identified as LGBT, compared to 14.1% of males.

Of Burners who listed their gender as “fluid or neither,” 61.7% identified as LGBT.

Another Census question asked about sexual orientation, with options wider than just “gay, straight, or bi*.”


*The purple areas of the graph represent what we’ve called “bicurious” for the purposes of our 2013 Census; this group to which we are referring doesn’t necessarily identify as such for purposes other than the survey, so they may be more accurately described as “sexually exploratory.”

The largest percentages for the overall, male, and female samplings represented heterosexual Burners, however, for the group identifying as fluid/neither gender, only 17% of them chose heterosexual as their orientation. The overall data depicts the Playa as a largely hetero, but bicurious environment. The same was true for females Burners. However, the male population was largely hetero with the second-most reported orientation as gay, while the fluid/neither Burners were mostly bisexual and refused labels.

If you compare Black Rock City to these cities in the United States, it is most similar to the urban areas of San Francisco or Seattle, which is representative of where many Burners come from, and where the event was originally birthed.

How does this compare to your (other) hometown or nearest urban area?

Written by: Tabicat
Edited by: Wendi Corbin goulette

Playa Life: Playa Name

Originally, Playa Names came about as a unique way to recognize Black Rock City Rangers and other volunteers over their 2-way radios, but over time they have gained broader popularity and for some, Playa Names can signify a rite of passage of deeper significance. Playa names are traditionally given to a person, rather than taken on, but similar to Cos Play at a comic book convention, going to the Burn offers Burners an opportunity to playfully create a new identity.

Some Playa Names are given following a special or funny moment in camp that creates a memorable story. Some Playa Names describe a personal characteristic that can brand a person for life in the minds of others. While others choose a Playa Name to express the excitement of freedom and discovery that comes with being Playaside for the first time. For what ever reason, a Playa Name creates an intimate connection from Burner to Burner like knowing a secret language. It creates a separate identity that allows a person to tap into a part of themselves that is unknown to the default world and where it may even be completely unappreciated.

The collected census data from the 2013 Cargo Cult experience revealed that 53% of the citizens of Black Rock City had a Playa Name. For almost two thirds of them, that name was given. Overall, 34% of Burners had a Playa Name that had been given to them, and 19% of Burners had a Playa Name and had chosen it for themselves. 29% of Burners had no Playa Names but were hoping to get one, and 18% had no Playa Name, period.

Some Playa Names whether they are taken or given take a while to get used to, and some forget to or refuse to use their Playa Names all together and introduce themselves by their default name on the Playa. Last year, 29% of Burners that had a Playa Name used their default world’s name most of the time while 21% used their Playa Names most of the time. And another 40% used their Playa Names sometimes with 37% using their default name. Then again 23% of Burners with a Playa Name chose to only use their Playa Names, while 15% of Burners with a Playa Name stuck with their default names only. And lastly, 16% chose to never to reveal their Playa Name while 19% chose to never reveal their default name.


Once back home in the default world, some people continue to seek opportunities to use their Playa Names while others like to keep it secret.

Of Burners with a Playa Name, 44% never told it to a non-Burner family members, 38% told their Playa Names to some non-Burner family members and 18% chose to tell most of them. While 33% did not reveal their Playa Name to non-Burner friends, 48% chose to tell their Playa Names to some non-Burner friends and 19% told most of them. Most Burners (61%) chose to keep their dusty secret names from non-Burner colleagues, while 28% told some of their non-Burner constituents at work or school with 11% choosing to share their new names with most of them.

Only a minority of Burners with a Playa Name have used their Playa Name once or more in the public space, such as to write in the media or on a website. Only 7% of Burners with a Playa Name reported having used it once, and 21% more than once. 72% never used their Playa Name in the public space.


Whatever the persona you create for yourself at Burning Man, there is always going to be someone who sees it slightly differently and will offer to put a spin on things. Some names are earned, some names given, but the best names are those that provide a sense of empowerment. The conundrum of the Playa Name remains, whether given or self-assigned, whether used, how and when to use it, whether integrated into your default life or Playa-secret. Either way, go out there Burners! Enjoy explore and love.

Written by: Crow
Edited by: Eulophia