Demography | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Most demographers, however, devote themselves to studies that go beyond this core; eg, by questioning why purely demographic phenomena (fertility, mortality, nuptiality, age structure) vary and what social consequences may result from these variations.


 Demography, the study of changes affecting human population, is concerned with the overall POPULATION, the immediate phenomena that alter it as a whole (births, deaths, migrations), or changes in its composition (sex, age, marital status, language, religion, education, income, etc). A population is usually defined as a group of individuals living in a particular area. However, studies are often conducted on subpopulations (eg, ethnic groups), the school-age population or the working population. This is the "narrow" concept of demography. Over the past 300 years, demographers have developed an impressive battery of methods for analysing all these phenomena and the ways in which they relate to one another. This set of facts, relationships and methods constitutes the heart of demography. When confined to this core area, demography is virtually a branch of mathematics and can also be applied to animal or plant populations.

Most demographers, however, devote themselves to studies that go beyond this core; eg, by questioning why purely demographic phenomena (fertility, mortality, nuptiality, age structure) vary and what social consequences may result from these variations. The resulting studies cover a large number of disciplines, in particular sociology, ethnology, economics, history, psychology and biology.

Strictly speaking, demography has no subdisciplines. Whether or not demography has subdisciplines is debatable. One might hold that population economics and population genetics, for instance, have developed a core of methods, concepts and knowledge that justifies the "subdiscipline" label. Two types of demographic studies may, however, be defined: those confined to narrow demography (some of these studies use rather sophisticated mathematical models), and those concerned with relationships between purely demographic and social (or sometimes biological) phenomena where statistical methods common to all scientific disciplines are used.

Evolution of Demography in Canada

Demography, a very empirical discipline, draws upon few theoretical models and many statistical findings. These findings were mostly supplied by censuses and vital statistics (ie, statistical information on births, marriages and deaths). In Canada, as in other industrialized countries, these information sources once constituted the very basis of demography (see DEMOGRAPHIC DATA COLLECTION). Now, they are more and more supplemented by surveys.

With the 1871 census, a few elementary analyses of a historical nature were performed, but it was not until 60 years later that the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, the predecessor of Statistics Canada, once again began to conduct demographic analyses of its data. The 1931 census contained 10 very detailed monographs published in 2 volumes. There were 2 census monographs in 1941, none in 1951, 8 in 1961, about 10 in 1971 and none in 1981. The authors were primarily university researchers. Since 1961 more limited studies, always linked to censuses, have been conducted on various aspects of Canada's population. Since 1974 Statistics Canada has from time to time published population forecasts for all of Canada and for every province.

Statistics Canada employs many, but not more than one-tenth of Canadian demographers. The contributions of a few pioneer researchers are noteworthy: Histoire de la population canadienne-française, the work of journalist Georges Langlois, was published during the thirties, and Enid Charles's remarkable work on fertility was published during the 1940s. During the 1950s several researchers, including 2 reputed Canadian demographers who now work in the US, Nathan Keyfitz and Norman B. Ryder, began to produce work in demography.

It was not until the 1960s that groups of professors specializing in population research and training students in demography established a few Canadian university programs designed specifically for this discipline. There is only one real department of demography (at the Université de Montréal), but at the University of Alberta and the University of Western Ontario, groups of professors, researchers and students interested mainly in population studies work within departments of sociology. Demography is also taught at a number of other universities where there is no formal training program. Outside of universities, most researchers in demography are employed in departments and certain para-public agencies of the federal and provincial governments.

Scope of Application

In examining the work of the 400 Canadian demographers, it will be found that "applied" demographic studies relate mainly to the forecasting of housing, health and education needs, and services to the elderly; to client forecasts concerning certain major public services; and to the development of policies relating to economic planning, birth control, social welfare, manpower, immigration, language and the preservation of cultural minority groups. However, certain studies (eg, population forecasts, which are helpful to all sorts of users, and some research conducted in universities, which is oriented toward knowledge of the past and problems of developing nations), are not as precisely defined.


In Canada there are 2 demography associations and a national federation. Founded in 1971, the Association des démographes du Québec has a membership of a little less than 200 francophone demographers. It publishes the Cahiers québécois de démographie twice a year. The English counterpart is the Canadian Population Society, founded in 1974. It has more than 200 members and publishes the biannual journal Canadian Studies in Population. The Federation of Canadian Demographers links the 2 associations.