1. Evolution de la population mondiale 0-2000

  2. World population 0-1998 A.D, 20 countries, regional totals (thousands)

  3. Rates of growth of world population 0-1998 A.D, 20 countries, regional totals (annual average compound growth rates)

  4. Alternative estimates of regional distribution of world population 0-1700

  5. de Vries population estimates for Europe

  6. United Nations population division

History of world population growth

from Angus Madison The world economy a millenial perspective

Statistical evidence on world population and its regional distribtion are fairly well documented since the beginning of the nineteenth century (1820).

Prior to 1820, the evidence is much weaker, and there are more gaps in the database. Nevertheless, the exercise in quantification is not a product of fantasy. The strongest and most comprehensive evidence is that for population, and the population component is of greater proportionate importance in analysis of centuries when per capita income growth was exiguous.

Demographic material is important in providing clues to per capita income development. One striking example is the urbanisation ratio. Thanks to the work of de Vries for Europe and of Rozman for Asia, one can measure the proportion of population living in towns with more than 10000 inhabitants. In the year 1000, this ratio was zero in Europe (there were only 4 towns with more than 10000 inhabitants) and in China it was 3 per cent. By 1800 the West European urban ratio was 10.6 per cent, the Chinese 3.8 per cent and the Japanese 12.3 per cent. When countries are able to expand their urban ratios, it indicates that there was a growing surplus beyond subsistence in agriculture, and that the non–agricultural component of economic activity was increasing. These changes were used to infer differences in per capita progress between China and Europe in Maddison (1998a), and such inference is a feature of the present study. The Chinese bureaucracy kept population registers which go back more than 2000 years. These bureaucratic records were designed to assess taxable capacity and include information on cultivated area and crop production which was used by Perkins (1969) to assess long run movements in Chinese GDP per capita.

Bagnall and Frier (1994) have made brilliant use of fragments of ancient censuses to estimate occupational structure, household size, marriage patterns, fertility and life expectation in Roman Egypt of the third century.

Serious work on historical demography started in the seventeenth century with John Graunt (1662). He derived vital statistics, survival tables, and the population of London by processing and analysing christenings and burials recorded in the London bills of mortality from 1603 onwards. Halley (1693) published the first rigorous mathematical analysis of life tables and Gregory King (1696) derived estimates of the population of England and Wales by exploiting information from hearth and poll taxes, a new tax on births, marriages and burials and his own minicensuses for a few towns.

Historical demography gained new vigour in the twentieth century in several important centres:

  • The Office of Population Research in Princeton University (established in 1936);
  • INED (Institut National des Études Demographiques) founded in the 1950s to exploit family reconstitution techniques developed by Louis Henry;
  • The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Family Structure (established in the 1970s) has carried out a massive research project to reconstitute English population size and structure on an annual basis back to 1541 (Wrigley, et al., 1997);
  • Research on Japanese population history has blossomed under the leadership of Akira Hayami and Osamu Saito;
  • There has been a flood of publications on Latin American demography from the University of California by members of the Berkeley school.
  • For the second half of the twentieth century we have the comprehensive international surveys of the United Nations, and the US Bureau of the Census.

As a result there are now a large number of monographic studies on European, American and Asian countries, and a long series of efforts to construct aggregative estimates of world population.

Riccioli (1672) and Gregory King (1696) inaugurated this tradition. Early estimates are usefully surveyed by Willcox (1931) who listed 66 publications between 1650 and 1850. Modern scholarship is represented by Colin Clark (1967), Durand (1974), McEvedy and Jones (1978) and Biraben (1979).

The following detailed estimates for years 0 to 2000 are resulting from these studies:

Mis en ligne le 2/12/2002 par Pierre Ratcliffe. Contact: ( sites web et