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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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7. Population Crises


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7.   Population Crises

7.1   Population Crisis and Recuperation

7.1.1   Definition of Population Crises

If we ask ourselves what a population crisis is, it is less a matter of finding a general answer, but rather of becoming aware of the problems related to this term. The answer to this question is in any case depending on the size of the observed area. What locally may manifest itself as a severe crisis, with a striking increase in mortality, may, at the regional level, already prove to be only weak, and can possibly no longer be detected at the national level. Various proposals have been made for how to distinguish crisis mortality from normal mortality, but we do not want to enter here into more detail; we have already dealt with the effects of epidemics on the population structure (cf. Ch. 5.4).

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