Population and Vital Statistics

  • B. R. Mitchell


The principal sources of population data are official censuses and registration records. In Europe, the earliest regular enumeration of national population dates from around the beginning of the period covered in this work. But, outside Scandinavia (and some, though by no means all, Italian states), systematic census-taking and registration of births, deaths, and marriages have been nineteenth, or even twentieth century phenomena. Historical coverage of the different countries, therefore, varies widely in scope. There is also good reason to believe, unfortunately, that it varies in accuracy. The almost universal tendency of censuses is to under-enumerate, though published results may sometimes have been deliberately inflated for political purposes. A proportion of vital events similarly escapes the registrar’s net. But in most countries these tendencies have probably declined over time, as officials became more sophisticated, and the population became more accustomed to procedures and less sus­picious of their purpose. However, the increase in the number of town-dwellers living alone in recent decades may have reversed this process in some countries. Until quite recently1 there was no means of knowing either the extent of understatement or its variation over time, so that for the most part it is impossible to do more than guess at margins of error in the past. By and large, it seems safe to take all regular censuses after the first two or three in a series as accurate to within five per cent overa11.2 Isolated, sporadic censuses are probably rather less reliable, in general.


Vital Statistics Civil Population Boundary Change Interwar Period Italian Province 
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© B.R. Mitchell 1975

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  • B. R. Mitchell

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