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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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5. Population Structures


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5.   Population Structures

5.1   Age Structure

5.1.1   Age Pyramids and Age Measures

The age distribution of the population is of enormous importance in demography. It is the most important basis for the study of mortality and fertility as well as the marriage behavior and other areas of demography. The age structure is not only interesting in and by itself, it is also essential for the interpretation of the birth and mortality rates in the past. At the same time, it also forms the basis for all projections into the future. Höpflinger formulated very succinctly: «In der aktuellen Altersstruktur der Bevölkerung begegnen sich sozusagen demographische Vergangenheit und demographische Zukunft».1 (In the current age structure of the population meet, so to speak, demographic past and demographic future). If we display the age structure as an age pyramid, with the children as the base and the oldest persons on the top,2 we recognize from its shape immediately the current fertility and mortality, and out of gaps in certain age groups, we can infer the effects of past wars or epidemics. Also migrations are reflected in the age pyramid, as they usually concern specific age groups. On the other hand the age pyramid allows us, together with assumptions about the future natality and mortality, to perform projections to the future, to predict shifts in the age structure, and to calculate the evolution of the total population number and the development...

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