(Historical) Demography in Action

There is nothing in this world quite so beautiful as data. Those of you who mark the days of the statistical releases of Census 2011 data in your diary (surely it’s not just me?!) will be hungering for more playthings like this one

Population pyramids for the UK from the census, comparing men and women in 2001 and 2011

The interactive tool from which this simple graph is taken lets you compare basic demographic data from 2001 and 2011 at a variety of different scales. It’s fantastic if you want to see which places or age bands are growing and which are not.

Why, you might well ask, would a historian be interested in population change as recent as this? Well, for starters, you might be interested in looking for echoes of the past in the current population. Look, for instance, at the little bulge of people in the population pyramid aged 60 to 65. These are the baby boomers, born in a time of post-war fertility catch up as well as rapid economic and social change. In the past ten years, they’ve moved out of the working age population and into retirement…at the same time as our economy has faltered and found the cash to support them ever harder to come by. The history of the baby boom is very far from over.

If that’s whetted your appetite for demographic history in the twentieth century (or, at least, the bits of it that the census can get at), take a look at this rather splendid story of the census. Population pyramids have never been so exciting.

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