Academic journal article Population

Interpretation and Use of the United Nations 1982 Model Life Tables: With Particular Reference to Developing Countries

Academic journal article Population

Interpretation and Use of the United Nations 1982 Model Life Tables: With Particular Reference to Developing Countries

Article excerpt

The United Nations Population Division (hereafter the UN Population Division or the Population Division) published a set of model life tables for developing countries in 1982. These mortality models were soon accepted, and have been used widely in demographic teaching and research since then. Over the last two decades, considerable progress has been made in the study of mortality in less developed countries and areas (Arriaga 1999; Gragnolati, Elo and Goldman 1999; Gribble and Preston 1993; Murray et al. 2000; Ruzicka 1984; Timæus, Chackiel and Ruzicka 1996; United Nations 1983a and 2000a). Demographers have also evaluated these mortality models (Anson 1991; Yaakoubd, 1989). Despite that, however, a number of questions regarding the interpretation and use of the United Nations model life tables (hereafter the UN model life tables) have not been adequately answered. This paper examines mortality changes in the populations studied by the UN Population Division in the early 1980s, and compares mortality patterns recorded in these populations with the mortality models constructed by the Population Division and by Coale and Demeny. On the basis of this investigation, it addresses some of these questions.

1. The United Nations model life tables for developing countries

Demographers are interested in modelling mortality and constructing model life tables for the following reasons: to find mathematical representations or laws of mortality; and to use model life tables as a tool to estimate overall mortality levels from limited or deficient data (Pressat and Wilson, 1985).

While the compilation of life tables can be traced back to the mid-seventeenth century when John Graunt made his landmark observation upon the mortality of London (Graunt, 1662), the first set of model life tables was constructed by the UN Population Division in 1955. It comprises a total of 48 model life tables with 24 for each sex. These model life tables are fairly rigid in the sense that they do not allow variations in age patterns of mortality once a mortality level is chosen. Thus, they were soon superseded by Coale-Demeny Regional Model Life Tables, which were first published in 1966 and then revised and reprinted in 1983. Coale-Demeny mortality models consist of four families named as North, South, East and West. They are used to accommodate the difference in mortality patterns identified in different populations. In comparison with those previously constructed by the United Nations, these model life tables are more flexible and easy to use. Since these models were largely derived from life tables collected from the developed world, however, they were and still are regarded as "less relevant to describing the experience of contemporary developing countries" (Rowland 2003, p. 314). With the intention of overcoming this "limitation", the UN Population Division compiled and published Model Life Tables for Developing Countries in 1982.(1)

In producing these model life tables, researchers of the Population Division evaluated a large amount of mortality data collected from less developed countries and areas by the Development Centre of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. They constructed life tables for these populations "whenever the data appeared of high quality or reliable adjustments could be made" (United Nations, 1982a, p.2). Altogether, 72 (36 male and 36 female) life tables were compiled for 22 populations.(2) Using two statistical procedures (linearly optimal profile construction and dynamic clustering analysis) and one graphical method, these life tables were divided into several groups according to their age patterns of mortality (United Nations, 1982a).

As suggested by the UN Population Division, the first group includes Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In comparison with Coale-Demeny West region mortality model, these populations had higher infant and child mortality, relatively high young adult mortality and relatively low mortality at older ages. …

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