The demographic development of the serf population in imperial Russia, particularly its rate of natural growth during the thirty years preceding the emancipation in 1861, has been the subject of considerable controversy. On the basis of data from the tax censuses (revizii), abolitionists sontended that the serf population was dying out, implying that the death rate consistently exceeded the birth rate. Many Soviet historians and demographers have subsequently advanced this view, seeing a demographic crisis as one dimension of the collapse of the feudal serf system. A Western scholar, Professor Daniel Field, has recently lent his support to this interpretation. But was serfdom so socially oppressive or economically stifling as to affect natural population growth adversely? Other contemporary statisticians and later historians—either less opposed to serfdom or more skeptical about the accuracy of population data—have avoided the issue.