social demography

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A field of study concerned with the analysis of how social and cultural factors are related to population characteristics. Its major focus is the impact of social and cultural factors on demographic features of society, such as patterns of marriage and childbearing, the age-structure of the population, life-expectancy, and so forth. In addition, however, social demography also encompasses examination of the social consequences of demographic change. Since the demographic characteristics of a society or social group are themselves social phenomena, and the immediate product of the social (but also biological) events of birth and death, in one sense the demographic study of any human population is a form of social demography. However, whereas demography itself is primarily concerned with determining and measuring population characteristics and the interrelationship between demographic variables, social demographers seek to understand and explain these demographic patterns. In so doing they draw on the expertise of sociology as well as of demography.

The three main variables underlying population change are fertility, mortality, and migration, variables themselves associated with factors such as age at marriage, the proportions marrying, contraceptive use, levels and types of morbidity, rural-urban migration, and so forth. All receive attention from social demographers, who seek to understand these processes in terms of a range of standard social factors such as the levels and distribution of income, levels of education, the position of women, religion, and economic development. The possible linkages between variables are usually studied by means of social survey and correlational techniques. Regrettably, theorization in the field tends to be underdeveloped and restricted to simple models, and there is relatively little attention to meaning. The way in which culture may shape individuals’ ideas and beliefs receives, with some significant exceptions, rather little attention. Ethnographic techniques are little utilized. The result of this narrowness of approach is that social demography, like demography itself, remains relatively isolated from the mainstream of sociology.

Subjects: Sociology.

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