Demography is the statistical study of human populations. It can be a very general science that can be applied to any kind of dynamic human population, that is, one that changes over time or space (see population dynamics). It encompasses the study of the size, structure and distribution of these populations, and spatial and/or temporal changes in them in response to birth, migration, aging and death.
Map of countries by population
Demographic analysis can be applied to whole societies or to groups defined by criteria such as education, nationality, religion and ethnicity. Institutionally, demography is usually considered a field of sociology, though there are a number of independent demography departments. Formal demography limits its object of study to the measurement of populations processes, while the more broad field of social demography population studies also analyze the relationships between economic, social, cultural and biological processes influencing a population. The term demographics is often used erroneously for demography, but refers rather to selected population characteristics as used in government, marketing or opinion research, or the demographic profiles used in such research.
Data and methods
There are two methods of data collection: direct and indirect. Direct data come from vital statistics registries that track all births and deaths as well as certain changes in legal status such as marriage, divorce, and migration (registration of place of residence). In developed countries with good registration systems (such as the United States and much of Europe), registry statistics are the best method for estimating the number of births and deaths.
Human population growth showing projections for later this century. (See also alternative view of chart).
A census is the other common direct method of collecting demographic data. A census is usually conducted by a national government and attempts to enumerate every person in a country. However, in contrast to vital statistics data, which are typically collected continuously and summarized on an annual basis, censuses typically occur only every 10 years or so, and thus are not usually the best source of data on births and deaths. Analyses are conducted after a census to estimate how much over or undercounting took place. Censuses do more than just count people. They typically collect information about families or households, as well as about such individual characteristics as age, sex, marital status, literacy/education, employment status and occupation, and geographical location. They may also collect data on migration (or place of birth or of previous
Demography residence), language, religion, nationality (or ethnicity or race), and citizenship. In countries in which the vital registration system may be incomplete, the censuses are also used as a direct source of information about fertility and mortality; for example the censuses of the People's Republic of China gather information on births and deaths that occurred in the 18 months immediately preceding the census. Indirect methods of collecting data are required in countries where full data are not available, such as is the case in much of the developing world. One of these techniques is the sister method, where survey researchers ask women how many of their sisters have died or had children and at what age. With these surveys, researchers can then indirectly estimate birth or death rates for the entire population. Other indirect methods include asking people about siblings, parents, and children. There are a variety of demographic methods for modeling population processes. They include models of mortality (including the life table, Gompertz models, hazards models, Cox proportional hazards models, multiple decrement life tables, Brass relational logits), fertility (Hernes model, Coale-Trussell models, parity progression ratios), marriage (Singulate Mean...