A page of the index compiled by Graunt for diseases and casualties in 1632.

A page of the index compiled by Graunt for diseases and casualties in 1632.

Detail map of London, England, United Kingdom Overview map of London, England, United Kingdom

A: London, England, United Kingdom

Demography & Vital Statistics


In 1662 John Graunt, a draper in London, published Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index, and Made upon the Bills of Mortality. Basing his work primarily on London's weekly Bills of Mortality, which had been published since 1593, Graunt noted the regularity of certain vital phenomena, such as higher death rates for children under six years of age, constructed the first life expectancy tables, and attempted to use his data to describe various characteristics of populations.

Graunt was well aware of the limitations of his data, however, citing such defects as lack of thoroughness, inadequate disease vocabulary, and dishonest reporting of deaths from certain causes such as syphilis.  His work first established the uniformity and predictability of many important biological phenomena when taken in large numbers, such as the greater number of female babies, the longer lifespans of females, the high mortality among infants.

It has long been debated how much Graunt's friend, the economist William Petty, contributed to the Observations; recent opinion has it that most of the work is Graunt's, although Petty may have made a few contributions. 

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) No. 144.   Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 933.

Timeline Themes