Historical demography

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Graph showing population by continent as a percentage of world population (1750 - 2005)

Historical demography is the quantitative study of human population in the past. It is concerned with population size, with the three basic components of population change--fertility, mortality, and migration, and with population characteristics related to those components, such as marriage, socioeconomic status, and the configuration of families.


The sources of historical demography vary according to the period and topics of the study.

For the recent period - beginning in the early nineteenth century in most European countries, and later in the rest of the world - historical demographers make use of data collected by governments, including censuses and vital statistics.[1]

In the early modern period, historical demographers rely heavily on ecclesiastical records of baptisms, marriages, and burials, using methods developed by French historian Louis Henry, as well as hearth and poll tax records.

For population size, sources can also include the size of cities and towns, the size and density of smaller settlements, relying on field survey techniques, the presence or absence of agriculture on marginal land, and inferences from historical records. For population health and life expectancy, paleodemography, based on the study of skeletal remains, is another important approach for populations that precede the modern era, as is the study of ages of death recorded on funerary monuments.

The PUMS (Public User Microdata Samples) data set allows researchers to analyze contemporary and historical data sets.[2]


Historical analysis has played a central role in the study of population, from Thomas Malthus in the eighteenth century to major twentieth-century demographers such as Ansley Coale and Samuel H. Preston. The French historian Louis Henry (1911-1991) is widely credited with the development of historical demography as a distinct subfield of demography.[3] In recent years, new research in historical demography has proliferated owing to the development of massive new population data collections, including the Demographic Data Base in Umeå, Sweden,[4] the Historical Sample of the Netherlands,[5] and the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historical Demography in Encyclopedia of Public Health, Retrieved on 3 May 2005
  2. ^ Sylvia Andrews, "Public User Microdata Samples (PUMS): Do-lt-Yourself Census Data." Indiana Libraries (2014) 13#2 pp: 19-26. Online
  3. ^ Paul-André Rosental, The Novelty of an Old Genre: Louis Henry and the Founding of Historical Demography, Population (English edition), Volume 58 –2003/1, Retrieved on 3 May 2007
  4. ^ http://www.ddb.umu.se/index_eng.html, Retrieved on 3 June 2009
  5. ^ http://www.iisg.nl/hsn/, Retrieved on 3 June 2009

Further reading[edit]

  • Fogel, Robert W. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World (2004)
  • Flinn, Michael W. The European Demographic System, 1500-1820 (1981)
  • Glass, David V. and David E.C. Eversley, Population in History: Essays in Historical Demography, London: Edward E. Arnold, 1965
  • Livi Bacci, Massimo et al. Population and Nutrition: An Essay on European Demographic History (Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time) (1991).
  • Stangl, Günter, Antike Populationen in Zahlen. Überprüfungsmöglichkeiten von demographischen Zahlenangaben in antiken Texten (Frankfurt am Main u.a., Peter Lang, 2008) (Grazer Altertumskundliche Studien, 11).
  • Walter, John W. and Roger Schofield, eds. Famine, Disease and the Social Order in Early Modern Society (1991)
  • Willigan, J. Dennis, and Katherine A. Lynch, Sources and Methods of Historical Demography, New York: Academic Press, 1982.
  • Wrigely, E. A., ed. An Introduction to English Historical Demography, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1966.
  • Wrigely, E. A., and R. S. Schofield. The Population History of England 1541-1871 (1989)
  • Wrigely, E. A., et al. English Population History from Family Reconstitution 1580-1837 (1997)

External links[edit]