Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 457-476

First online:

Demography as a Spatial Social Science

  • Paul R. VossAffiliated withDepartment of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison Email author 

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Scholars in many social science disciplines have taken note of the re-emerging interest in issues concerning social processes embedded within a spatial context. While some argue that this awakening is refreshing and new and, in fact, long overdue, I demonstrate that spatially focused demographic theories and research agendas clearly predate contemporary interest in these topics. I assert that recent methodological advancements have merely encouraged and brought refinement to the expanding body of spatially oriented population research—research strongly rooted in demographic tradition and practice. Indeed, I make the claim that, until roughly the mid-20th century, virtually all demography in the United States (and elsewhere, but not specifically examined here) was spatial demography. Then, shortly after mid-century, a paradigm shift occurred, and the scientific study of population quickly came to be dominated by attention to the individual as the agent of demographic action. Traditional spatial demography—macro-demography—gave way to micro-demography, and, I argue, most demographers simply abandoned the data and approach of spatial demography. In closing the paper I include a brief discussion of the recent awakening that has come to spatial demographers from developments in other disciplines, principally geography, regional science, and spatial econometrics.


Spatial demography Spatial analysis Ecological fallacy Multilevel modeling