'Demography is the term used for the study of the characteristics of human populations, such as their size and structure and how these change over time.'
Size and structure is an example of what can change over time in human populations. Within the population of Britain there are a number of demographic changes which have had a number of effects on the family. These changes include the declining birth rates, fertility rates, infant morality rates, death rates and increased life expectancy. These particular changes have had an impact on family size, but have also increased the pressures on families and individuals today as a result of the ageing population.
The decline in the death rate and infant mortality rate
Here are the facts:
'In 1902 the death rate was 18 per 1,000 and this had declined to around 10 per 1,000 in 2007. The infant mortality rate has also fallen, from around 142 per 1,000 live births in 1902 to around 5 per 1,000 in 2007. Average life expectancy has consequently risen. Today, men can expect to live, on average, to around the age of 77, and women to around 81, though of course many will live beyond these average ages.'
Reasons for the decline in the death rates:
- Scientific and medical advances
- The welfare state
- Safer and healthier working conditions
- Higher living standards
- Improved education and health awareness
- Better food and food technology
- Better hygiene and sanitation
- Improved health care
Explanations for changes in the death rate, infant mortality rate and increased life expectancy
Improved hygiene, sanitation and medicine
Since the early nineteenth century public hygiene and sanitation have improved enormously. Having the construction of public sewer systems and the provision of clean running water has made a big impact on cleaning up. These changes have improved public awareness of hygiene and the cause of infection; have contributed to the elimination in Britain of the great epidemic killer diseases of the past. Vaccines and development of penicillin, antibiotics and other life-saving drugs have been advances in medicine and science, also in surgery and medical technology such as transplant surgery which have further contributed to the decline in the death rate, and increased life expectancy. This more sophisticated medical care means that people now survive illnesses that would have killed them not too long ago. The highest mortality rates were among babes and young children before the twentieth century, but today death rates the older you get. Major causes of death today in Britain are from non-infectious degenerative diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Higher living standards
The rise in standards of living have assisted reducing death rates further. Higher wages, better food, more, amenities and appliances in the home are a few of the things that have raised the living standards. Also greatly improved housing conditions, with less damp, inside toilets and running hot water have assisted in the health and life expectancy of the population. A wider range of more nutritious food is available with improved storage techniques such as freezing, which make it possible to import a range of foodstuffs, including more affordable fresh fruit and vegetables all year round cause improved transportation and food technology.
Public health and welfare
Since the establishment of the welfare state in 1945 there has been a steep rise in the state intervention in public welfare. There is much better antenatal and postnatal care for mothers and babies because of the NHS providing free and comprehensive health care which means that more women have their children in hospitals today and there are health visitors to check on the young babies. This helps to explain the decrease in the infant mortality rate. Maintaining standards of health in times of hardship and older people in particular are better cared for today, from the wide range of welfare beneifits. Also a range of services like home helps, social workers and old peoples homes, helps the old people with pensions.
With these changes comes a growing awareness of nutrition and its importance to health. Having improved educational standards, particularly in health education, led to a much better informed public, which demand better hygiene and public health. The welfare legislation and social reforms to improve health, bodies like NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), provide the national guidance on the promotion of good health with prevention and treatment of ill health. This institute seeks to improve the health of the public by education, for example by emphasizing the benefits of exercise, giving up smoking and eating a balanced diet. The evidence supporting this growing health awareness include the public outcries in the 1980s and 1990s over the risks of food poisoning such as salmonella in eggs and the 'mad cow disease' in beef. The E.coli food poisioning outbreak in 1996-7 killed twenty people which gave the public rejection of genetically modified crops and food in the early 2000s, and the decline in the numbers of people smoking cigarettes. The Office for National Statistics reported that 'in the early 1970s around 50 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women smoked, but by 2004/5, this has dropped to 26 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women.
Improved working conditions
Within the twentieth century working conditions have improved dramatically, with technology taking over some of the more arduous, health-damaging tasks, and factory machinery is often safer than it was a hundred years ago. Reduced risks to health have happened because of higher standards of health and safety at work, having shorter working hours with more leisure time and earlier retirement ages which then make work physically less demanding.