Demography and its vocabulary over the centuries: a digital exploration
Population and Societies
n° 505, November 2013
Our ideas about population have varied continuously over the centuries, as illustrated in the vocabulary changes detected by Ngram Viewer in the vast corpus of books digitized by Google. For example, the French word démographie, first coined in 1855, did not take off until after the Great War, in response to falling birth rates, as expressed by the term dénatalité. The 1960s were haunted by the threat of surpeuplement (over population). Assimilation des immigrés (immigrant assimilation) has never really been a central concept in France, unlike intégration des immigrés (immigrant integration), which gained popularity in the 1980s. Espérance de vie (life expectancy) is gaining ground and has overtaken taux de fécondité (fertility rate). Far from being certain and unchanging, our vision of population questions is marked by frequent discontinuities, the most recent dating from the 1980s.