Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.Vin Scully
Centuries ago, ordinary people lived out their days, going about their daily business, and then ultimately died, all without anyone taking a great deal of notice of their existence, other than their families and those with whom they directly interacted. There was no master list of the population, no central registry of who was born, who married, who had children and who died. People in one county or state had no knowledge of the people in another county or state and probably gave little thought to how many people lived in their village, their county, their state, their country or in the world.
Before the nineteenth century, there were a few incomplete attempts to quantify the populations in various places. In the great Doomsday survey of 1086 for example, William the Conqueror ordered a study of England and parts of Wales to determine how much land each land owner held, what livestock they had and what their property was worth. But for the most part, each man was an island, isolated in his existence, and society existed without knowledge of the population as a whole.
Around the beginning of the nineteenth century however, people became more interested in the concepts of the population as a whole and many countries began taking decennial censuses to count the people. At various times in various places, civil registration began to keep track of who was born, who married and who died.
Statistics were born.
He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts - for support rather than for illumination.
The Dictionary of Statistics
In 1892, G. Routledge and Sons of London, England published the work of statistician Michael G. Mulhall. His book, Mulhall wrote in his forward, was the culmination of his life’s work. He drew heavily on the work of others, copying their statistics freely, for he said ‘…there is no copyright in statistics…’ and he fully expected that others would in turn copy his work without reference or attribution. In some cases, Mulhall listed the sources of his data, but in many others, he just presented it, leaving us without any way to measure the possible accuracy of the data he presented.
This is a review of his book and his work. I offer his statistics with attribution, but with no sense of whether the statistics are valid or what his sources were. His work, for the most part, ignored the great populations of many parts of the world, such as China, India and Africa and was concerned primarily with Europe, Russia and North America for that was the only world that he knew. While the numbers and percentages that Mulhall quotes in his Statistical Dictionary are interesting in themselves, the inferences that can be made after a careful examination of the facts that are also of particular interest to the social historian.
Mulhall’s age statistics, while not sourced, are from different years in different countries and many seem to reflect the years when a population census was undertaken, so it is assumed that the statistics come, at least for the most part, from that census data.
Much of the population in the late nineteenth century were between the ages of 5 and 40. The percentage of people under five was low because of the comparatively high rate of still births and infant mortality. The percentage of people over forty was also low because in most places, the average life expectancy was only about 45 years of age or even younger. In the years to come, these statistics would change drastically with great advances in sanitation, medical knowledge and improved infrastructure.
Notable in Mulhall’s age statistics is the comparatively low percentage of children in Ireland, France and Brazil. The Irish number, he attributes to the fact that the marriage rate in Ireland was the lowest in the world. Also notable are the higher ratios for people over sixty observed in Ireland and France. This is most likely attributable to the fact that there are statistically fewer children, giving greater weight to the aging population.
As Mulhall presents more age related statistics, we can’t help but to be struck by the social conditions that are implied in his various assumptions. For his table of ages of the working population, he assumes that workers are from age 20 to age 60 and that they are all male. Even as it is now, the lower the percentage of the population that is considered as working class, the higher is the burden on them to support the rest.
Also apparent in Mulhall’s statistics are the various factors that affect the population of given countries over time. The French, he notes, were greatly affected by the Franco-Prussian War between 1870 and 1871 in that there is a much lower percentage of people between the ages of 15 and 60 at the time of the Census return of 1872.
As Mulhall looks at the population of the United States in the late nineteenth century, the number of working age white males very clearly outweighs the number of similarly aged white females. This he attributes to immigration and the fact that immigrating is more suited to young men during this time period than it is to young women. The black population, he notes, is for the most part evenly split between male and female as a more natural division of any population.
France was the safest place to be an infant under the age of one while Austria had the highest infant death rates. France was also a good place to grow old, tied with Belgium for the highest number of the population who reached the age of 90.
There were high infant death rates in North America as well as Europe.
A shocking number of our ancestors died violent deaths according to these statistics provided by Mulhall. Similar tables provide other death related statistics such as the number of deaths from alcohol. In the American war 1861-63, deaths from drink were 350 per million and 15 in 10,000 were sent to hospital for drink. In the French army, 33 men per million die from alcohol.
Disease was also the enemy of our ancestors around the world. Death from respiratory diseases appears particularly high in this chart provided by Mulhall with no apparent date.
The nineteenth century saw many Europeans (some 27 million) leaving their homes to seek a future in a new land.
Despite the outflow of emigrants to the New World, the population of Europe doubled during the nineteenth century.
Even with the industrial revolution in full swing, Mulhall notes that agriculture was still the ‘most important industry of mankind’ although he does give mention to the effects of the new industrial process improvements by noting that although capital and product had more than doubled in the decades since 1840, the number of hands engaged in agriculture had not risen more than 50 percent with improved farming machinery and methods allowing more food to be produced with less workers.
Mulhall’s simple graphical representation of the world’s agricultural output highlights the dramatic effect that the cultivation of land in the vast acres of the United States and Russia had on grain production in the nineteenth century. Animals raised for meat, however, were still primarily a product of Europe in this time period with the lack of refrigeration no doubt being responsible.
As the population of the United Kingdom rose and improved shipping had made imports of North American grain more feasible between 1830 and 1890, the production of grain within the United Kingdom had dropped dramatically from 17 bushels per inhabitant down to only 8 bushels per inhabitant. During the same time period, the number of people engaged in agriculture also dropped dramatically from 33 percent in 1831 to only 12 percent in 1881 as the population continued the internal migration from rural environs to the industrial cities.
The annual product of agriculture declined steadily in Ireland from 1851 to 1888 in what Mulhall explains as a breakdown of the tenant-farmer system there. He quotes John Stuart Mill:
Alone among mankind the Irish peasant cannot be better or worse off by any act of his. If industrious or prudent, nobody but the landlord gains, if lazy or intemperate, it is at the landlord’s expense.Mill
Emigration due to the potato famine of the 1840’s had seen many of the men in the prime of their working life leave Ireland that all that was left were the paupers and agricultural exports plummeted.
Mulhall cites agricultural statistics for many countries in his dictionary and comments on the socioeconomic reasons for increases and decreases in a fascinating view of the nineteenth century.
He notes that from 1818, the nobles in Sweden began to sell up their lands to the peasants, resulting in an unprecedented growth in land under cultivation and in agricultural output.
The rising production of grain from the United States soared as settlers moved west, claiming more land and it represented about a third of the whole grain crop of the world, according to Mulhall.
Canada was also growing rapidly as emigrants continued to settle and clear acres of rich farm lands, putting them under cultivation.
Australia too was growing with the number of acres cultivated raising almost tenfold between 1861 and 1888.
The West Indies had great potential with so many acres still not under cultivation.
Mulhall quoted statistics about many esoteric subjects that can add a richness to our understanding of our ancestors’ lives. The wealth of trivia provides a fascinating glimpse into the minutia of social history.
Cats and Dogs
According to Mulhall, in the 10th century, one cat was worth two hens or two gallons of beer. There were some 7 million cats in the United Kingdom at the time he wrote the book. Dogs, for the most part, were taxed in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century although sheep dogs were exempt.
The Tall and Short
Instances of Twins and Triplets
Gallons of Spirits Consumed
Suicides by Occupation
About the Author
Michael George Mulhall was born in Dublin Ireland on 29 September 1836. He emigrated to Argentina to join his brother Edward who was a large sheep farmer and together they started the Buenos Aires Standard newspaper. He married Marion McMurrough Murphy, also an author, and they worked together on his statistical work.
” The Dictionary of Statistics.” By Michael G. Mulhall. George Routledge and Sons. — Eight years ago Mr. Mulhall published the first edition of this book, and it was at once hailed as a boon by students and public writers, as a clear, accurate, and comprehensive work of reference. Encouraged by the success of what was after all but a tentative volume, he has since accumulated by years of laborious and skilled research a vast array of facts and figures, and the outcome of his investigations is the present complete ” Dictionary of Statistics “‘ — a book which is about five times as large as its predecessor. It is not. of course, claimed that the work is even now complete in he strict sense of the term, and it obvious, moreover, that any work of the kind, however admirable and exact, must become, to a certain extent, obsolete after the lapse of a few years. Mr. Mulhall, however, has placed statesmen, political economists, social reformers, and indeed all who take an intelligent interest in the progress of the modern world, under a debt of gratitude by the patience and ability which he has brought to a task from which most men would have recoiled in dismay. There has been no lack of encyclopedias and dictionaries of commerce and geography, to say nothing of political gazetteers and financial almanacks, but, so far as we are aware, this is the first methodical attempt to give within reasonable compass the quintessence of the statistics which are accumulating year by year in every department of human knowledge. Each of the larger subjects which is handled in these pages is introduced by a general survey, which gives the figures approximately for each country every ten years. This is followed by a more detailed statement in regard to the progress of each nation, and care is taken to point out whether the statistics are official or non-official. Mr. Mulhall frankly declares that he has freely used the works of others, and has done so because “there is no copyright in statistics,” and because he expects others to avail themselves of his labours — as, indeed, they do every day — without any recognition. We heartily commend the book both for the mass of statistics which it contains, and the method with which they are arranged. It is to be hoped that the publishers will make arrangements to bring out a revised edition every five years of a book of reference which is not merely trustworthy and intelligible, but invaluable and unique.London Evening Standard - Wednesday 13 April 1892