J C Caldwell
1 November 2000
Demography: Scope, Perspectives and Theory
John C. Caldwell
Health Transition Centre
National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health
Australian National University
The term “demography” has been widely used in English-speaking countries only from the mid -twentieth century. Earlier, “population studies” or, revealingly, “population problems” had been the common usage. There is still an inclination to restrict “demography” to the analytical methods used to analyze population data while employing “population studies” or “population science” for wider subject matter covering, in addition, the causes and consequences of demographic change. Interest in the size and growth of populations is as old as the first state formations in the ancient Middle East and some attempts to count or estimate population numbers go back millennia. State strength was dependent on population numbers, especially those males of military age, and a good government was one under which numbers increased because of the suppression of violence and success in averting famine. There have long been attempts to place a figure on the number of deaths during severe epidemics. Censuses and the recording of deaths were carried out in some of the citystates of Renaissance Italy. Birth rates were treated as either constant or meaningless and little attempt was made to measure them until shortly before the recent fertility transition.
Modern demography had to await the development of a scientific outlook and counts of population and vital events that were reasonably complete. These conditions began to be realized during the second half of the seventeenth century in Britain, where the Royal Society was founded in 1660 with two of the fathers of demography, John Graunt (1620-74) and William Petty (1623-87) as members. Graunt was a merchant and used bookkeeping principles to construct the first life table, drawing...