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Frequently Asked Questions

What are Vital Statistics Used For?

Vital Statistics (VS) underpin research into demographic processes using measures of fertility and mortality. Many examples of research can be found in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) quarterly publication Population Trends. The General Register Office for Scotland (GRO(S)) has some excellent analyses of fertility and mortality trends over time and the GRO(S) website is well worth a visit. See in particular the 2003 Annual Review of Demographic Trends.

VS are also a fundamental data input to population estimating and forecasting methods which are used to provide population age-sex counts outside of the decennial censuses. ONS publish subnational estimates and forecasts for England and Wales from national down to local authority district level (see ONS Population estimates and projections) as well as papers published in Population Trends. Various researchers have reported on estimates and forecast techniques, often for smaller geographical areas than district. See, for example, Simpson et al. (1997) and Rees et al. (2004) on estimates and Capron (1994) and Shaw (1998) on forecasts. The CCSR website has more information about the POPGROUP software.

VS provide the key to health research over time and across geographic space from national down to ward level. In addition to articles in Population Trends, ONS also publishes Health Statistics Quarterly. There is a wealth of academic research using the VS as a resource, often in combination with other Census data. See, for example, Drever and Whitehead (1995), Rees et al. (2003) and Shaw et al. (1999).

How is the data collected?

It has been a legal requirement for people to register births and deaths since 1838. Currently, births must be registered within 42 days of the birth. Deaths must be registered within 5 days, with the medical certificate of the cause of death to be taken to the register office (for more information on the registration process, see the General Register Office website).

In England and Wales births and deaths registrations are collected by local authorities and passed through the Registrar General to ONS. ONS collate the VS data which are aggregated at various geographical scales, from national down to electoral wards, and then disseminated as tables for each calendar year.

What is a GIS?

A Geographical Information System (GIS) combines layers of information to give a clearer view and understanding of the spatial, geographical patterns of the data.

Can anyone access our CommonGIS application?

Our CommonGIS application is freely available to UK academics and researchers.

What data is available on CommonGIS?

We have pre-loaded the England and Wales Vital Statistics on fertility and mortality for 2001, supplied by ONS.

How do I get help?

If you do have any problems or questions about the pilot CommonGIS, please email

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ESDS Home Page > Government > Vitals > Faq
  Page last updated 22 February 2013
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