vital statistics, primarily records of the number of births and deaths in a population. Other factors, such as number of marriages and causes of death, by age groups, are regularly included. From these records can be computed birthrates and death (or mortality) rates from which trends are determined. The earliest known system of vital statistics was in China. In England the clergy was required as early as the 16th cent. to keep records of christenings, marriages, and burials; during the 17th cent. the clergy in France, Italy, and Spain began to keep similar records. The oldest continuous national records system is that of Sweden (since 1741). The clergy and government officials in the colonies of North America began to record vital statistics in the 17th cent.; on a national level, the U.S. government started publishing annual records of deaths in 1900 and of births in 1915. The most striking trend shown by recent vital statistics is the rapid increase of the populations of nonindustrial countries due to a sharp decline in the mortality rate and an acceleration of the birthrate.
See United Nations Statistical Office, Handbook of Vital Statistics Methods (1955); R. Pressat, Demographic Analysis (tr. 1972).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.