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So long as we were dealing with the mere numbers of houses and of persons, male and female, present at the date of the census in each of the multitudinous areas into which the country is divided, we were on sure ground. Here and there an individual travelling all night, and not going to any house in the morning, may possibly have escaped enumeration, and here and there a house lying close to a doubtful boundary line may possibly have been reckoned as belonging to the wrong area; but such omissions and inaccuracies must have been so rare that they may be utterly disregarded, and for all practical purposes the figures in the first two volumes, which relate simply to the numbers of houses and of inhabitants, may be accepted as strictly accurate. But no sooner do we pass to the question of ages, or of occupations, or of other particulars dealt with in the third volume, than we find ourselves on very uncertain ground, and must proceed with much care and circumspection.

As regards ages, there can be no doubt that the returns made by individuals are in a very considerable proportion of cases more or less inaccurate.

Various causes of misstatement of age

In the first place, very many persons, especially among the illiterate classes, do not know what their precise age may be. They keep their date of birth in mind for the earlier part of their life, up to 20 years or so, but after this they lose reckoning, and can only make an approximative statement. Such persons have a strong tendency to return their age as some exact multiple of 10; 30, 40, 50, 60, &c., as the case may be, though in reality they may be a year or two on one or the other side of that precise age. There is also a similar tendency, though in a far less degree, to return the unknown age as 35, 45, 55, or other uneven multiple of five. In consequence of this, when the ages of a considerable number of persons, as returned by themselves or their friends, are abstracted by single years, there is always found to be a marked excess for the years that terminate the decades, and a less marked, but distinctly recognisable, excess for the years that terminate the intervening quinquennia. This may be well seen in the First Annual Report of the Registrar-General, in which the deaths registered in England and Wales in the twelve months from July 1837 to June 1838 were abstracted by single years of age, and with the results shown in the Table on p. 17.

Age as
of Deaths.
Age as
of Deaths.
Age as
of Deaths.
Age as
of Deaths.
0 71,888 30 2,762 60 3,394 90 693
1 27,908 31 1,960 61 2,113 91 387
2 14,983 32 2,410 62 2,578 92 384
3 9,524 33 2,331 63 2,770 93 312
4 6,731 34 2,332 64 2,742 94 197
5 4,713 35 2,420 65 2,891 95 189
6 3,433 36 2,207 66 3,016 96 138
7 2,837 37 2,276 67 3,031 97 110
8 2,337 38 2,286 68 2,700 98 76
9 2,120 39 1,970 69 2,247 99 43
10 1,815 40 2,965 70 3,348 100 37
11 1,667 41 1,736 71 2,361 101 13
12 1,640 42 2,334 72 3,236 102 16
13 1,663 43 1,882 73 2,892 103 11
14 1,899 44 2,075 74 2,886 104 12
15 1,816 45 2,560 75 3,081 105 7
16 2,175 46 1,976 76 2,818 106 4
17 2,303 47 1,997 77 3,243 107 3
18 2,511 48 2,173 78 2,812 108 and
} 2
19 2,643 49 1,897 79 2,071
20 2,663 50 2,716 80 2,810 Unknown 874
21 2,800 51 1,701 81 1,852
22 2,867 52 2,168 82 2,263
23 2,747 53 1,977 83 1,843
24 2,738 54 1,985 84 2,167
25 2,607 55 2,391 85 1,770 Total 335,956
26 2,584 56 2,341 86 1,468
27 2,580 57 2,116 87 1,234
28 2,542 58 2,110 88 1,195
29 2,235 59 1,932 89 661

It will be noticed in this Table that at the ages of 10 and 20 there is very little, if any, apparent excess in the deaths as registered, but that after this period, during which alone the exact ago is pretty certain to be retained in memory, there is a very great excess at each year that is a multiple of ten, and a small excess at most of the intervening multiples of five. When ages are abstracted, as in the census returns, by quinquennia instead of by single years, this tendency to return the ago as a round number is of course less apparent. Still it exists, and the result of it must be that the figures for the successive quinquennia of life are alternately too high and too low, accordingly a they include or do not include a year of which the unit figure, or, to use a convenient French term, of which the millÚsime is 0.

In consequence of this tendency to round numbers, which has long boon fully recognised, it is better to group the ages by decennial periods, and to arrange these so as to have the year which is an exact multiple of ton in the middle. The excess in such year and the deficiencies on either side of it will then counterbalance each other.

Confusion between year of life and years completed

A second cause of erroneous statement as to age is the confusion made by many persons between the year of age in which, they are living and the number of years they have completed; for instance, between "in the 21st year of life" and "21 years old."

The ages of children under five were abstracted at the Census Office by single years; and there can be no doubt that, owing to this confusion as to the proper mode of expression, the number of infants enumerated as under one year of age is very considerably below the mark, very many infants having been returned as one year old who really were only ten or nine, or even fewer, months of age. The returns of children in the second, third, fourth, and fifth years of life respectively are also probably far from correct; but here the amount of error will not be so great as in the first year, for, though a certain number in. each case will have been pushed on a year beyond their proper place, yet this loss will have been more or less fully compensated by gain from the year below. The total number for the whole quinquennium will almost certainly be understated, because some children in. the fifth year of life will have been returned as five years old.

Tendency of old persons to overstate their age

A third cause of inaccuracy in the age-returns is the tendency of old persons, when uncertain as to their exact ago, to exaggeration. In consequence of this tendency, very little trust should be put in the quinquennial or oven the decennial totals after 85; and it is safer to make one single group in which all persons of 85 years and upwards shall be included. Not impossibly, nor indeed improbably, some few of the 141 persons who were stated to have completed their 100th year of life at the date of the census may have been entitled to centenarian honours; but the results of such inquiries as those made by Mr. Thorns show that it is extremely rare for human life to be prolonged to this extent, and it can scarcely be doubted that comparatively few of the cases would bear strict investigation.

Wilful misstatement of age by girls and women

There remains yet another form of inaccuracy in the age-returns, which differs from those as yet mentioned in being of a wilful character. Many persons, and notably many women, desirous of being thought to be younger than they really are, return themselves as under 25 or as under 30 when their true age is even considerably beyond these limits.

On the other hand, we find reason to believe from careful examination of the age-tables that a not inconsiderable number of girls who are not yet fifteen return themselves as being of that or of more advanced age, probably with the view of getting more readily taken as servants. In consequence of this, the number of girls of the 10-15 years period of life, as given in our tables, is too low. Probably a similar overstatement of age on the part of many young women occurs in the next age-period, 15-20 years of ago, and with a similar object. This age-period, however, receiving a certain number from below that do not rightly belong to it, and losing above a certain number that should rightly be retained, counterbalances its losses by its gains, and is therefore probably not very incorrect as regards the total assigned to it. Brit not so the next age-period, 20 and under 25 years of age. Young women under 20, as already explained, often state themselves to be over that age, while many others, who are 25 or more, state themselves to be under 25; so that this age-period receives at both ends without any counterbalancing loss, and thus the total of women returned as in this period of life comes to be very much too high.

That something of this kind occurs can be shown very easily and very conclusively, The young women in the 20 and under 25 years age-period who are, alive at the date of any census are, of course, the survivors of the girls who were in the 10 and under 15 years age-period at the date of the preceding decennial census; and should therefore, owing to the deaths in the intervening ten years, be considerably fewer in number than the girls of whom they are the remainder. But, as a matter of fact, it is found, on examining the age-tables of successive censuses, that invariably the young women aged 20 and under 25 are considerably more numerous than were the girls aged 10 and under 15 ten years earlier.

Date of Census Girls enumerated as 10 and under 15 years of age at each Census. Women enumerated as 20 and under 25 years of age 10 Years later. Calculated Survivors of the Girls in Col.2 after 10 Years on the Basis of the English Life Table
1841 851,736 871,152 795,459
1851 949,362 969,283 886,634
1861 1,045,287 1,052,843 976,221
1871 1,203,469 1,215,872 1,123,951

It will be seen in this table that in 1841, to take a single example, there were 851,1,736 girls who returned their ages as between 10 and 15; but that in 1851 the survivors of these, who, according to the English life table, should have been 795,459, were, according to the returns, 871,152, or actually more numerous than the girls of whom they were the surviving remainder after a lapse of ten years! Death has apparently increased their number instead of diminishing it! Now, emigration and immigration cannot be supposed to affect the number of girls and women at these ages in any appreciable degree, and such slight effect as they may have would be to diminish rather than to increase the number of apparent survivors. There can, therefore, be no other explanation than, that either the number of the girls was understated or that the number of young women was overstated; and, as we have already said, a close investigation of the figures has led us to the conclusion that both these explanations are true; but that the overstatement of the number of young women is very airmen greater than the understatement of the girls.

To what extent this falsification of the ages of girls and women prevails cannot be stated, and therefore no full correction can be made for it. Its effect is, however, somewhat reduced by making the age-periods under which the population is tabulated consist of decennia, rather than of quinquennia or other shorter periods. The age may then be not inconsiderably understated, and yet the person be kept within the group to which he or she properly belongs.

Such are the main causes that affect the accuracy of the age-returns, and that probably affect them very seriously. These causes, we should say, were fully recognised by our predecessors in former census reports. We have, however, thought it advisable to restate them at some length, lest incautious use should be made of the results of the enumeration. The age-figures, and especially those of the female sex, must be looked on as being at best simply approximative; and the shorter the age-period, the greater must be the margin allowed for misstatement.

The graduated age table

It is convenient, however, for many purposes to hare an estimate, even though, no more than roughly approximative, of the number of persons living at each year of a life It has been shown already that the mode in which. persons return their ages does not allow of this estimate being made by direct abstraction from the enumeration books. A more correct estimate can really be made by taking the numbers returned for longer periods of life, quinquennia for instance or still better decennia and dividing these out to the individual years by interpolation. The series of figures thus obtained will, of course, present a much greater regularity than actually exists, but will be sufficiently close to the truth for all practical purposes, and at any rate will be much closer to the truth than any series founded on direct abstraction for single years of life. "We have, therefore, constructed such a graduated table (Appendix A., Tables 10 and 11) by the method of differences. In this table the totals agree with the enumerated totals, raised to the middle of the year 1881, for the following life-periods:—

0 and under 5 years   45 and under 55 years
5 and under 10 years   55 and under 65 years
10 and under 15 years   65 and under 75 years
15 and under 25 years   75 and under 85 years
25 and under 35 years   85 and under 95 years
35 and under 45 years   95 and upwards

The totals for each age-period, excepting the first, have been apportioned to the several years within that period by interpolation. But the first age-period (0 and under 5 years) has been dealt with on another plan, the enumerated total for this period of life having been divided out to the several years within it in proportions determined by calculation from the registers of births and deaths; and, inasmuch as the birth-rates and death-rates of children showed considerable fluctuations in the successive years 1876-1881, the series of figures for this first quinquennium of life is also necessarily very irregular. It has already been, mentioned that, according to such estimate as we can form, the total for this first age-period is itself considerably understated. But notwithstanding this, we have retained the total in our graduated table without correction, because the same cause which leads to the understatement of the number of children living under five years of age will lead also to a similar understatement of the numbers dying at that period of life; and consequently a correction of the living total would interfere with the calculation of death-rates, which is one of the main uses of the age-tables.

Taking the graduated table as our basis, we may estimate the numbers living at several important periods of life as follows:—

Children under school age

The number of infants and young children who were not as yet of school-age at the date of the census, but all the survivors of whom will have to be taken into account by school managers when three years shall have elapsed from that date, was 2,192,871.

School age

The children of school-age, that is 3 and under 1.3 years of age, numbered 6,218,305, and of these 3,101,095 were males, and 3,117,210 were females.

Minors and persons of full age

The number of young persons legally under age, that is who had not yet completed their twenty-first year, was 12,590,909. Of these 6,283,344 were males, and 6,307,565 were females.

The number of persons of legal age was 13,618,367. Of these 6,546,579 were males, and 7,071,788 were females.

Recruiting age

The number of males of recruiting ages, that is of from 19 to 25 years of age, was 1,407,348, being 15.9 per cent. more than the number of corresponding ages in 1871.

Reproductive age

The number of females of reproductive ages, which we may roughly consider as from 15 to 45 years, was 6.009,746; and of these, as may be estimated from another table (Vol. III., Summary Table 3), 2,953,078 had been married, and still had living husbands. The number of males of corresponding ages was 5,779,931.

Age-distribution of the population

The age-distribution of the population, that is to say, the proportion of persons living at each successive period of life to the total population, underwent very little alteration in the interval between 1871 and 1881 (cf. Appendix A., Table 15). Some slight changes, however, occurred; and these may be summed up generally by saying that the proportion of persons under 25 years of age increased, while the proportion of persons over that age diminished, and, of course, to a corresponding extent. Here are the figures for three successive censuses:—


Date. Under 25. 25 and upwards.
1861 543,807 456,193
1871 545,397 454,603
1881 552,237 447,763

This change was due to two main causes: firstly, to the fact that the birth-rate had been gradually increasing for many years; and, secondly, to the fact that the death-rate had been, declining among persons under 25, while it had slightly increased in the aggregate of persons over that age. There had thus been an ever-increasing proportion of young members added to the community, and of this increasing addition a larger proportion survived. The following table gives the birth and death rates in three successive inter-censal periods:

per 1,000 living.
Mean Annual Death-Rate per 1,000
living at the repective Ages.
Under 25. 25 and upwards.
1851-60 34.1 22.00 22.37
1861-70 35.1 21.99 22.92
1871-80 35.3 19.78 23.09
* The birth-rates in this table relate in periods of ten years commencing in January, and, therefore, differ slightly from those shown on page 6, which are for the intercensal periods commencing in April. The former periods are used in this table because deaths in combination with age are only abstracted for complete years beginning with January.

Different age-distribution of males and females

The age-distribution differed much in the two sexes; and, as is shown in the following table, the proportion of young, males to males of all ages was much higher than the proportion of young females to all females.

MILLION living of EACH SEX in 1881.

(Army, Navy, Marines, and Merchant Seamen, at Home and Abroad, included.)

SEX. Under 25. 25 and upwards.
Males 560,969 439,031
Females 542,573 457,427

To this difference between the sexes, which is one that repeats itself each census, three causes contribute. In the first place, the number of male births, that is, the number of young males added each year to the community, is always considerably higher than the number of female births; secondly, more males than females disappear by emigration, a loss which chiefly affects the middle periods of life; thirdly and lastly, female life is of longer duration than male life, so that there is an accumulation of females at the later ages.

Difference of age-distribution in town and country

Age-distribution differed also very considerably in different localities, and notably in of towns as compared with rural districts. (see Vol. III., Summary Table 2.) In towns there is always an abnormal proportion of adults in the prime or working period of life, who are drawn from without by the higher wages; and this excess of persons of reproductive ages again, as a rule, entails an abnormal proportion of young children; so that in towns the proportion of aged persons to the total population comes to be much lower than elsewhere. There is also, as has been pointed out on an earlier page, a great difference between town and country in the proportionate numbers of males arid females in their respective populations; and combining this difference as to sex-proportions with the difference as to age-distribution, we have the results given in the following table:—


to 100 Males.
PERSONS. Males. Females. PERSONS. Males. Females. Urban
All ages 1,000,000 480,085 519,915 1,000,000 500,471 499,529 108 100
0— 136,214 67,903 68,311 134,151 67,173 66,978 101 100
5— 118,604 58,930 59,674 126,607 63,476 63,131 101 99
10— 104,484 51,646 52,838 114,847 58,932 55,915 102 95
15— 99,278 47,529 51,749 95,506 51,575 43,931 109 85
20— 94,602 44,247 50,355 79,128 39,816 39,312 114 99
25— 155,034 74,080 80,954 127,030 61,769 65,261 109 106
35— 116,976 56,131 60,845 105,266 51,325 53,941 108 105
45— 82,219 38,553 43,666 86,760 42,376 44,384 113 105
55— 54,482 24,905 29,577 68,747 33,979 34,768 119 102
65— 28,042 12,160 15,882 42,922 21,040 21,882 131 104
75— 8,997 3,637 5,360 16,720 8,021 8,699 147 108
85 and
1,068 364 704 2,316 989 1,327 193 134
NOTE.—London and the Urban Sanitary Districts are taken in this Table to represent the Urban Districts, and the remainder of England and Wales constitutes the Rural Districts.

The main points of contrast disclosed in this table between urban and rural population, are as follows. In the towns there is a great excess of adults between 20 and 45 years of age, and a deficiency in the proportion of persons of more advanced age, This excess of adults of reproductive ages causes a high birth-rate, and in consequence the proportion of children under five yeans of age is somewhat higher in the towns than in the country. That it is not even higher than the table shows it to be is to be attributed to two causes: firstly, a very large proportion of the excess of adults in the towns, though of reproductive ages, consists of unmarried shopmen and apprentices or of young women in domestic service; and, secondly, the mortality of young children is very much higher in towns than in the country. So great, indeed, is the difference in this respect, that though the proportion of children in the first age-period (0 and under 5 years) is, as we have seen, slightly higher in the towns, the position is reversed in the next age-period (5 and under 10 years), and still in ore decidedly in the next but one (10 and under 15 years), the proportion of young persons of these ages being much higher in the rural than in the urban population.

Passing from the columns headed "Persons" to the columns of "Males" and "Females," we find the following further contrasts:—The proportion of females to males is much higher in the towns than in the country, being in the former 108.3, and in the latter only 99.8 to 100. This difference is very decided in the third age-period, 10 and under 15 years of age, but becomes still more strongly marked in the next period, 15 and under 20 years of age, when the females in the towns are to the males as 109 to 100, whereas in the country they are only in the proportion of 85 to 100. This is duo to the extensive migration of girls from the country to the towns to supply the demand for domestic servants. In the succeeding age-period, 20 and under 25 years, the disproportionate preponderance of females in the towns still continues, but is less strongly marked. The influx of young males has begun, and soon assumes such magnitude that in the next two periods, 25 and under 35 and 35 and under 45 years of age, the proportion of females to males is not much higher in the urban than in the rural communities. After this age the excessive proportion of females in towns again manifests itself, and the contrast between town and country in this respect continues henceforth to become more and more exaggerated with each successive age-period. Why this should be the case is not very apparent. It may be that aged women find life in towns more suited to their tastes, whereas old men prefer the quiet retirement of the country; and it may also to, and probably is, the case, that there are many more occupations open in towns to old women than to old men.

This question of age and sex distribution is not a matter of mere curiosity, but of much practical importance in vital statistics; for as the death-rates differ very greatly at different ages and in the two sexes, when an attempt is made to compare the healthiness of one locality with that of another locality, or the healthiness of one trade with that of another trade, it is not enough to take the general death-rates of the two as the basis of comparison, unless it has been first ascertained that the age and sex distribution in the two is the same, or sufficiently near for all practical purposes.

If we take the mean (1871-80) death-rates in England and Wales at each age-period as a standard, the death-rate in an urban population, as constituted, above, would be 20.40 per 1,000, while the death-rate in the rural population would be 22.83. Such would be their respective death-rates on the hypothesis that the urban districts and the rural districts were equally healthy. We know, however, as a matter of fact, that urban death-rates, instead of being lower than rural death-rates, are much higher. The difference of healthiness, therefore, between the two is much greater than the difference between their death-rates.

1 The tables relating to Ages are in Vol. III., which has an index at p. 526. Ages are given, with distinction of sex, for Registration Counties, Districts, and Sub-Districts, as also for Sanitary Districts, in Tables 1—6 of each Divisional Part. Ages in combination with civil or conjugal condition are given for Registration Divisions, Counties, and Districts in Tables 7, 8, and 9 of each Divisional Part.

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