The life table: A demographic overview

  • Guillaume Wunsch
Part of the European Studies of Population book series (ESPO, volume 11)


The purpose of this preliminary chapter is to present an elementary overview of the life table, its objectives and its construction, and to point out some of the problems related to the background assumptions of life table methodology. The life table is one of the oldest tools of demographic analysis. Indeed, it seems that life expectancies were already estimated during the Roman Empire, though the lack of data led to more or less informed guesses rather than to hard facts! The method was however perfected during the 17th and especially the 18th century, by such well-known figures as Graunt, Halley, and de Moivre. It was during the 19th century however that the method gained wide acceptance thanks to the recent availability of data derived from the census and the vital registration system. Presently, any first-year student in demography can easily calculate a life table, and several software packages are on the market: life table construction has thus become ordinary routine. The method is not without problems, however, as we shall see in the following sections.


Life Table Survivorship Function Model Life Table Synthetic Cohort Vital Registration System 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

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  • Guillaume Wunsch

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