A Classification of the Nature of Mortality Data Underlying the Estimates for the 2004 and 2006 United Nations’ World Population Prospects

Marc Luy


The estimation of mortality conditions and trends is a sophisticated task for most populations in the world, above all for those of developing countries. After two decades of intensive discussion and derivation of specific estimation tools for these populations, the use of indirect estimation techniques seems largely forgotten among those who are not forced to apply them. However, for the majority of developing countries these methods are still the main and often the only available estimation tool. In order to systematise the available data and applied estimation techniques, we developed a five-scale classification of the nature of mortality data and assigned all countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants to the corresponding groups. The classification is based on three sources of information regarding the nature of mortality data, the analytical reports of the 2004 and 2006 revisions of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects and the methods and data descriptions of the 2006 Global Burden of Disease Study. Although the information provided by our classification is purely descriptive rather than giving a detailed overview of the specific methods and approaches, the contents of this paper should be of interest to politicians and scientists using the United Nations’ World Population Prospects as well as to scholars who teach and learn about indirect demographic estimation techniques.


mortality; nature of mortality data; life expectancy; indirect estimation techniques; model life tables; world population prospects; orphanhood method; growth balance method

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