Effects of targets and aggregation on the propagation of error in mortality forecasts

Juha M. Alho, Bruce D. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Official forecasts of mortality depend on assumptions about target values for the future rates of decline in mortality rates. Smooth functions connect the jump-off (base-year) mortality to the level implied by the targets. Three alternative sets of targets are assumed, leading to high, middle, and low forecasts. We show that this process can be closely modeled using simple linear statistical models. These explicit models allow us to analyze the error structure of the forecasts. We show that the current assumption of perfect correlation between errors in different ages, at different forecast years, and for different causes of death, is erroneous. An alternative correlation structure is suggested, and we show how its parameters can be estimated from the past data. The effect of the level of aggregation on the accuracy of mortality forecasts is considered. It is not clear whether or not age- and cause-specific analyses have been more accurate in the past than analyses based on age-specific mortality alone would have been. The major contribution of forecasting mortality by cause appears to have been in allowing for easier incorporation of expert opinion rather than in making the. data analysis more accurate or the statistical models less biased.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-227
Number of pages19
JournalMathematical Population Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 1990


  • Cause-specific mortality
  • population projections
  • social security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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