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Demographic Aspects of the Early Modern Times

The Example of the Zurich Countryside in a European Perspective


Walter Letsch

The study deals predominantly with basic questions of Historical Demography that have so far not yet been tackled, as no adequate sources seemed to exist, or the effort for digging into these problems seemed outrageous. Many major gaps are filled in this study, based on two types of sources: 14 census-like nominal population listings for 126 parishes of the Zurich countryside, complemented by 52 parishes of adjacent areas, and four reconstituted communities with very early parish books. This allowed coming up with detailed population structures by year of age, sex and marital status for the year 1634, with regional variations. Full, detailed mortality tables by sex and for all ages could be calculated for the period 1634–37, by far the earliest mortality tables worldwide. Mortality during plague epidemics was analysed in detail, too, resulting in the first and only plague mortality table. Model life tables are presented as well, showing a pattern that differs strongly from what has been assumed so far. New insights could also be gained about premarital sex and the importance of remarriages.

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4. The Population and its Development


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4.   The Population and its Development

4.1   Absolute Population Figures

4.1.1   European Perspective

Roger Mols wrote 1955: «La connaissance du chiffre de population totale est d’une importance unique en démographie.»1 One might think at first that this was typical for that time, to care more for absolute population numbers than rates of development, ratios and meaningful indicators. This would however mean mistaking Mols, since for him the absolute population was especially interesting because it forms a significant part of the basis for these development rates and ratios. With the counting of deaths, we cannot yet calculate the mortality, only the knowledge of the size of the population at risk allows us further detailed investigations. Often, the population size is only a figure based on an estimation with reduction factors, in which, for example, the number of households, communicants or conscripts are used to estimate the total population. But such calculations are only more or less reliable if the reduction factors can be considered reasonable, i.e. if they have been determined on the basis of actual population numbers.

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