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What is Demography?

By J. Beam
Updated May 23, 2024
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Demography is the scientific study of characteristics and dynamics pertaining to the human population, including things like size, growth rate, density and distribution of a specified group. It requires the study of information that may be gathered from a population census, vital statistic records and other sources. People who study and record this data are referred to as demographers, and they must know both how to scientifically obtain facts and how to interpret them relatively. Used for thousands of years, it has a wide range of practical applications and has evolved over time.

Main Goal and Importance

The primary reason people use demography is to create statistics--in fact, the term roughly translates to "people measurement." These allow a person to get a picture of how common specific traits within a group are, or to determine elements such as risk. The numbers are not arbitrary and are based on facts, so although individuals have to be careful not to let bias slide into their collection methods, people see the resulting percentages or ratios as a more scientific way of supporting a point or coming to a conclusion about a population. Comparing statistics over time also allows researchers to show changes that are happening in the target group, which is very useful for planning purposes.

Key Statistical Concepts

The information gathered and studied for a demographic overview of a population depends on the person or group that will be using it, but statistical concepts essential to this field include birth, death, infant mortality, and fertility rates, as well as life expectancy. Demographers often break these down further, such as the ratio of men to women and the life expectancy of each gender. In some studies, the research into an area is expanded to include education, income, the structure of the family unit, housing, race or ethnicity and religion.

Collection Methods

Generally, there are two major strategies used to get information in demography. The direct method tries to connect with each person in a population, and the facts collected come primarily from vital statistics registries and censuses. The indirect method uses responses from only a segment of the population to get data about the entire group. This is a more common technique in countries that are still developing, because these regions often lack the organization and resources to maintain records on everyone.

Within these two general categories, demographers have a variety of choices on how to get the data they need. Probably the two most common are surveys and forms. Researchers like these options because formally putting the investigation on paper ensures that all respondents are asked for the same information in the same way. It also can be both time- and cost-efficient, and it allows people to store records and review them at a later time. Depending on the circumstances, however, a person also might use methods such as conducting interviews and making first-person observations.

Practical Application

People apply demography in many different contexts and industries. Governments, for instance, use it for political observations, or to determine a need for world assistance due to famine, disease or other issues. Scientists and scholars use it for research purposes, and in real estate, sales agents employ demography to give clients an overview of specific neighborhoods. Advertising relies heavily on this type of data, because companies need to be specific about trends to reach the maximum number of potential customers in their target audience. Similarly, education uses demography to help gather data to provide necessary governmental and local assistance. Additional areas of application include economics, which relates financial, social and political information, and sociology, which uses statistics to show how individual groups of people are organized and developing.

History and Evolution

Experts believe that people have practiced forms of demography for thousands of years. An often-used example is the ancient Roman census, which separated free men from slaves, gave Romans a sense of collectivity, allowed an estimation of tax revenue and contributed to military development. Through the Middle Ages and even the Renaissance, many kings and other political rulers used similar techniques to figure out how big their empires were, and to determine the potential threat of enemies.

Today, many of these purposes still apply, but a major difference is that advances in technology have dramatically reduced the amount of time and resources necessary to collect the information. This shift is arguably most noticeable starting in the second half of the 20th century, which saw the development of the computer. Contemporary demographers are able to collect data electronically through the Internet, and they also can keep digital records. People often can access these facts and statistics for free from the comfort of their homes, as well.

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Discussion Comments

By anon318059 — On Feb 05, 2013

What are the examples of elements that are studied in demography?

By anon179091 — On May 23, 2011

what is the latest Nigerian population?

By anon53854 — On Nov 25, 2009

Identify the customer segment by demographic for the use of meswak toothpaste in india.

By anon43679 — On Aug 31, 2009

How do you find out what demographic group you belong in?

By anon35402 — On Jul 04, 2009

how many is the latest Phil. male and female population from 2008-2009?

By anon28344 — On Mar 15, 2009

What is the latest population here in the Philippines? Is the Philippines now overpopulated? Give some reasons and facts.

By anon25695 — On Feb 02, 2009

What kinds of jobs are available for people with Masters-level training in Population Studies or Demography?

By anon16598 — On Aug 09, 2008

Nice site - decent article. I've often felt that demographers are under the false assumption that "the trains need to remain on time" when they assert that we need _more_ people. There's no reason that I can figure that a society cannot retreat (they use "collapse" or "implode") to a smaller functional model. I'm sure that there's more to it, but they appear to sound like (example) "We're running out of conductors to run the future empty trains, children to fill the empty nests, mechanics to repair the hardly driven cars, etc. It all appears based on the infinite "expansion" concept that just isn't any universal constant that I'm aware of.

By anon11230 — On Apr 11, 2008

what is market research? different elements? different types?

By anon8167 — On Feb 09, 2008

can you kindly explain what is proposed by rule 69 in demography?

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