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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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8. Longevity and Long-term Developments


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8.   Longevity and Long-term Developments

8.1   Long Life and Longevity

8.1.1   Important Definitions

We have introduced the most important demographic terms in Sect. 6.2.1; in the following, they will be further clarified. ‹Longevity› is a general term which is used both for individuals and for populations. When speaking of longevity as a problem, one usually means by this the problem of an increasing life expectancy. With ‹life span› or ‹lifetime› we refer in general to the number of years from birth to death. The possible or maximum life span is the maximum age achievable for an individual. The terms of the mean or maximum life span relate to real people. If one speaks of the ‹life expectancy›, no individual persons are meant by that, usually not even a real population. The ‹life expectancy› is the arithmetic average of the remaining years of life at a certain age, under the assumption that the mortality (of the mortality table used for the calculation) will not change. Life expectancies are usually calculated with period life tables. Most frequently used is the life expectancy at birth, the average life span within the described framework of unchanging mortality rates; this measure is, however, of limited use in the historical times of interest to us, and it is sometimes even somewhat misleading, as occasionally wrong conclusions are drawn. More suitable is often the median age, i.e. the most probable life span, the age, up to which...

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