From Birth to Death is a detailed analysis of how population statistics are collected in the United States, particularly by the Bureau of the Census. It describes the errors and other flaws typically found in such data.
Petersen sets out the fundamentals of demography and reviews the current proposal to use sampling in the census. He then reviews examples of how ignoring age and sex structure leads to false conclusions. Petersen explores race and ethnicity and the dilemmas inherent in the necessarily ambiguous definitions of these categories. He also analyzes the problems of women who postpone having children to ages when risks of failure become significant.
The author also reviews the two most prominent population theories—Malthus and the fertility transition—and questions why predictions of future population size are often completely wrong. The final chapter discusses the pros and cons of state intervention in the control of fertility and efforts to cut family size in less developed countries and their unclear results. A principal topic is the relative accuracy of population statistics and the degree to which one should accept data as published. The main focus is on the United States and especially on the Bureau of the Census, but general points are sometimes illustrated with examples of how data from other countries should be evaluated.