Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2002
In this work, the evolution of demographic and health patterns in a Basque rural population from Spain is analysed, as they relate to progress in demographic and epidemiological transition. For this purpose, parochial record data on 13,298 births and 9215 deaths, registered during the 19th and 20th centuries (1800–1990), were examined. The study area is a rural community called Lanciego, which is located at the southern end of the Rioja Alavesa area (Alava Province, Basque Country). In Lanciego, demographic transition began in the final decade of the 19th century, when a definite, irreversible trend began towards a reduction in mortality. The decrease in the birth rate came later than that in the death rate, and did not start until the 1930s. The post-transitional stage seemed to be reached in the 1970s, when the birth and death rates showed values below 20 per 1000. Other characteristics observed for the post-transitional stage in Lanciego are: (i) very low rates of infant mortality achieved at the expense of effective control of exogenous mortality; (ii) the mortality curve by ages changes from a U-shape (typical of populations with a high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy at birth) to a J-shape more characteristic of modern societies where longevity and life expectancy are considerably higher; (iii) a certain level of over-mortality among women in the senior age group (>65); and (iv) a significant proportion of mortality in recent times (1970–90) resulting from cardiovascular diseases and malignant neoplasms (post-transition causes). This last point is in contrast with observations from the first four decades of the 20th century, when infectious diseases and respiratory ailments were determining factors in mortality among this population. The data provided by the study of the variation over time in demographic and health patterns indicate that reducing the risk of mortality is one of the most important preconditions for fertility decline.