Monday, October 17, 2011

Playing with Numbers

Battle Scene During War of Triple Alliance

In a previous posting I talked about the War of the Triple Alliance / The Paraguayan War 1864-1870. Here I will discuss a revisionist attempt to downplay the demographic disaster for Paraguay that resulted from the war.1

In 1988 Professor Blinn Reber published a strongly revisionist analysis of the demographic consequences of the war.2

Paraguayan population figures are to put it mildly contentious. However we do have a series of censuses done before the war. We have for example a census done in 1846. There does not appear to have been another census done until after the war so that this is the baseline set of figures. Of course it should be noted that these figures are almost certainly significant underestimates of the actual population.

In the 1846 census we have the following figures.

Adults     -  140,490   68% of Total Pop.
Children  -   66,405   32%           "
Total        - 206,895 100%           "
*The Total excludes Slaves etc., which are not broken down by age in any manner.3

Assuming that 46% of Adult population is adult male, a rather low percentage, the following is worked out.

Males     -  64,625   31.3% of Total Pop.
Females -  75,865   36.7%        "
Total      -140,490   68%           "4

In 1870 the new Paraguayan government commissioned and carried out a census. It appears that given the terrifying nature of the results which showed a truly staggering level of losses the results were suppressed. The results showed a loss from c. 450,000 to under 200,000!5

The 1870 census gives the following figures.

Adults     -    65,263          63% of Total Pop.
Children  -     9,334          37%           "
Total       -  105,275        100%           "

*The census of 1870 does not give an age / sex breakdown of certain districts, so the Total in the table is not the total of the census.

The Census of 1870 broken down by sex for Adults is has follows.

Males        - 14,266 13.5% of Total Pop.
Females    - 50,997 49.5%     "
Total         - 65,263 63%        "7

Taking Professor Blinn Reber’s low estimate of 285,715 for the population of Paraguay in 1864 and using the percentage above for the census of 1846 to calculate the number of Children, Adults and Adult Men and Women gives the following figures.

Children              -  91,430
Adult Males         -  89,059
Adult Females     - 104,547
Total Adults        - 193,606
Grand Total        -  285,715

If you use Professor Reber’s high estimate of 318,114 for the population of Paraguay in 1864 you get the following figures.

Children            - 101,769
Adult Males       -  99,597
Adult Females   - 116,748
Total Adults      - 216,318
Grand Total      - 318,114

Taking Professor Blinn Reber’s lowest figure of 261,069 for the Paraguayan population in 1870 and using the percentage above for the census of 1870 to calculate the number of Children, Adults and Adult Men and Women give the following figures.

Children          -  97,079
Adult Males     -  35,044
Adult Females - 129,026
Total Adults    - 164,070
Grand Total    -  261,069

If we use Professor Reber’s high figure for 1870, which is 292,514. We get the following figures.

Children          -  108,230
Adult Males     -    39,489
Adult Females  - 144,794
Total Adults     - 184,283
Grand Total     -  292,514

The implications of the above are as follows.

The census of 1886 indicates that ratio of women to men age 30+ was approximately 3 to 1. This would mean that 15 years earlier the ratio of women 15+ was also approximately 3 to 1. This ratio is accepted by Professor Blinn Reber, at least for the 1886 census. The results of the 1870 census basically confirm this and so the two censuses in respect to these ratios reinforce each other.10

I note that in order for Blinn Reber to support her contention of a minimal decline of the Paraguayan population it must be assumed that the population of adult women increased by about 1.5-3% a year over the approximately 6 war years, for a total of about 10-19.5%. growth during this time period. Or it must be assumed that the 3 to one ratio of men over women is wrong, in which case the 1886 census results must be dismissed as really seriously undercounting men 30+. I further note that the number of children increased by 6%, working out to 1% a year or a worst declined slightly; c. .5%.

The combined growth rate for women and children works to 13% over the 6 year time period or 2.15% per year using the low figure as a base and Reber’s low estimate of the 1870 population. If you use the high figure for 1864 and the high figure given for 1870 it works out to an increase in the number of women and children of c. 16%. Overall this would seem to imply no increase in the death rate of Women and Children during the war. In fact it argues for a significant growth in those categories during the war which is belied by contemporary accounts of material conditions in Paraguay.11

Assuming Professor Blinn Reber's own figures implies a loss of adult men of a minimum figure of about 50,000, which is certainly a truly serious demographic disaster. Given the apparent acceptance of this demographic disaster among the male population the only way using Professor Blinn Reber’s own figures is to assume significant growth of the female and child population of more than 2% a year during the war. Any attempt to increase the ratio of the adult male to adult female population is constrained by the 1886 census and dismissing said census eliminates any use of it to criticize the 1870 census, and given that the ratio results (Adult Women to Adult Men) of said census’ reinforce each other the likely hood of the ratio result being seriously in error is minor, although both censuses could have missed significant numbers of people. It would have to be shown that both censuses for some reason significantly missed very large numbers of men and were significantly more successful counting women and children. As it is this argument could be made for 1870 it is less likely for 1886, and as mentioned the 1886 results reinforce the validity of the 1870 results in terms of the sex ratio, if not in absolute numbers.

I note here also that Reber when she does refer to military losses during the war, which would be overwhelmingly military, gives the patently absurd figure of c. 14,000, which is belied by the 1886 three to one ratio of women over men 30+, census.12

In fact given what we know about the conditions of the Paraguayan population during the war it is hard to believe that the Paraguayan population, excluding Adult Men, grew significantly during the war.

In Professor Blinn Reber’s paper she breaks down the 8.7% minimal losses, which she claims are most likely in the following manner. In this table the minimum figures are based on her estimate of 285,715 for the Paraguayan population in 1864.

Military 5%              - 14,286
Cholera 1%              -   2,857
Yellow Fever .5%    -   1,428
Other Diseases 1%   -   2,857
Migration 1%           -   2,857
Lost Territories .2% -      572
Total                        - 24,875

If we up the figure to Professor Reber’s maximum 18.5%.

Military 8%              -  22,875
Cholera 3%              -    8,571
Yellow Fever 1%     -    2,857
Other Diseases 3%   -    8,571
Migration 3%           -    8,571
Lost Territories .5% -    1,436
Total                        -  52,881

If we use the figure 318,114 for the population of Paraguay in 1864 we get the following for the low percentage of losses; 8.7%.

Military 5%               - 15,905
Cholera 1%               -   3,181
Yellow Fever .5%     -   1,590
Other Diseases 1%    -   3,181
Migration 1%            -   3,181
Lost Territories .2%  -      632
Total                         - 27,670

If we use the figure 318,114 for the population of Paraguay in 1864 but calculate the losses as Reber’s high percentage of 18.5%. We get the following.

Military 8%              -  25,448
Cholera 3%              -    9,543
Yellow Fever 1%     -    3,181
Other Diseases 3%   -    9,543
Migration 3%           -    9.543
Lost Territories .5% -    1,590
Total                        -  58,848

*Professor Reber does not give actual numbers.

Excluding migration and lost territories the number of deaths works out to 21,446 for the lowest figure. Given that at the lowest estimate the adult male population declined by approximately 50,000, this calculation misses c. 30,000 deaths of males alone, assuming of course that all the deaths are adult male, which is highly unlikely, in fact impossible. Even if you use the highest estimate which is c. 48,000, once again excluding migration and including only deaths. The figure only becomes acceptable if you assume that the overwhelming majority of war related deaths were of adult males.

The above calculations minimize the number of adult men who died by using deliberately skewed percentages to calculate the number of adult men and women in 1846 and further minimizes the actual rate / number of increase of women required to make up the percentages (totals and growth rates) and numbers required to fit into Professor Blinn Reber’s minimum calculation for the total population of Paraguay in 1870.

Since Professor Blinn Reber’s own figures seems to require the postulating of significant population growth of Women and Children during the war in order to close a gap of a minimum of 30,000 between the actual number of men who died and her calculation of the population (minimum) of Paraguay for 1870, the figure Professor Blinn Reber gives for losses cannot be taken seriously. This is further reinforced by the postwar sex ratio of about three women to one man strongly confirmed by the 1886 census sex ratio for adults 30+., which is further confirmed by the 1870 census.

The fact that the census of 1870 has categorically proven that Paraguay suffered catastrophic losses during the war is just the final nail in the coffin of the idea that the war had virtually no impact on the Paraguayan population aside from adult males. Although given that Professor Reber seems to think that even on Adult Paraguayan males it was less than usually thought. This is a bit strange given that she accepts as accurate the 1886 census giving a ratio of three to one for women 30+ as against men 30+. In fact it appears likely that Paraguay’s demographic loss was on the order of 60-69%!!14

I conclude that Professor Blinn Reber’s minimum figures for Paraguayan losses during the war are very unlikely to be true given the necessary verging on absurd assumptions that must be made in order to get the results Professor Blinn Reber calculated.

Scene from War of the Triple Alliance

1. See Here.

2. Reber, Vera Blinn, The Demographics of Paraguay: A Reinterpretation of the Great War, 1864-1870, Hispanic American Historical Review, v. 68, no 2, 1988, p. 28-319.

3. Williams, John Holt, Observations on the Paraguayan Census of 1846, The Hispanic American Historical Review, v.56, no 3, 1976, p. 424-437.

4. IBID. Calculations are my own.

5. Whigham, Thomas L., & Potthast, Barbara, The Paraguayan Rosetta Stone: New insights into the Demographics of the Paraguayan War, 1864-1870, Latin American Research Review, v. 34, no 1, 1999, p. 174-190.

6. IBID.

7. IBID.

8. Reber. Calculations are my own.

9. Reber. Calculations are my own.

10. IBID, Whigham et al.

11. Calculations are my own.

12. IBID.

13. IBID, pp. 317-318. Calculated figures are my own.

14. Whigham & Potthast, p. 185.

For further discussion of Reber’s article see: Whigham, Thomas L., & Potthast, Barbara, Some Strong Reservations:..., Hispanic American Historical Review, v. 70, No. 4, 1990. pp. 667-675. Reber’s reply to the critique is at pp. 677-678 of the same issue.

For a further discussion of Whigham & Potthast’s article see Reber, Vera Blinn, Comment on “The Paraguayan Rosetta Stone”, Latin American Research Review, v. 37, no. 3, 2002, pp. 129-135, in same volume see Kleinpenning, Jan M., Strong Reservations about “New Insights into the Demographics of the Paraguayan War”, pp. 137-142. Whigham and Potthast’s reply is in the same volume at pp. 143-148.

Pierre Cloutier

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