Historical Demography in the United States

Emily K Merchant, David J Hacker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In 1977, the Population Association of America designated Louis Henry the first recipient of its prestigious Irene B. Taeuber Award for his development of family reconstitution twenty years earlier. This method involved linking family members to one another and over time through their appearances in ecclesiastical records of baptisms, marriages, and burials, facilitating the analysis of demographic processes in the past and thereby inaugurating the field of historical demography. Family reconstitution quickly produced a rich account of historical population dynamics in much of Europe, but was of limited utility in the United States. Religious freedom, the lack of an established state church, high levels of geographic mobility, and racial and ethnic heterogeneity contributed to a relative dearth of church vital records, and most of the country lacked civil vital registration until the early twentieth century. By necessity, historical demography in the United States has required the development of alternative sources and methods. Given the relative scarcity and short time depth of historical records, the field has also been less focused on the period before the demographic transition and more open to the study of populations outside its borders. Over the last fifty years, historical demographers in the United States have contributed to a rich body of knowledge about population and population change not only in the U.S., but also in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA Global History of Historical Demography
Subtitle of host publicationHalf a Century of Interdisciplinarity
PublisherVerlag Peter Lang AG
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-0343-2303-1
StatePublished - 2016


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