Using cohort change ratios to estimate life expectancy in populations with negligible migration: A new approach


  • David A. Swanson University of California Riverside
  • Lucky Tedrow Western Washington University



incomplete data, estimation, census data


Census survival methods are the oldest and most widely applicable methods of estimating adult mortality, and for populations with negligible migration they can provide excellent results. The reason for this ubiquity is threefold: (1) their data requirements are minimal in that only two successive age distributions are needed; (2) the two successive age distributions are usually easily obtained from census counts; and (3) the method is straightforward in that it requires neither a great deal of judgment nor “data-fitting” techniques to implement. This ubiquity is in contrast to other methods, which require more data, as well as judgment and, often, data fitting. In this short note, the new approach we demonstrate is that life expectancy at birth can be computed by using census survival rates in combination with an identity whereby the radix of a life table is equal to 1 (l0 = 1.00). We point out that our suggested method is less involved than the existing approach. We compare estimates using our approach against other estimates, and find it works reasonably well. As well as some nuances and cautions, we discuss the benefits of using this approach to estimate life expectancy, including the ability to develop estimates of average remaining life at any age. We believe that the technique is worthy of consideration for use in estimating life expectancy in populations that experience negligible migration.

Author Biography

David A. Swanson, University of California Riverside

Department of Sociology