Phantoms never die: living with unreliable population data




The analysis of national mortality trends is critically dependent on the quality of the population, exposures and deaths data that underpin death rates. We develop a framework that allows us to assess data reliability and to identify anomalies, illustrated, by way of example, using England and Wales population data. First, we propose a set of graphical diagnostics that help to pinpoint anomalies. Second, we develop a simple Bayesian model that allows us to quantify objectively the size of any anomalies. Two-dimensional graphical diagnostics and modelling techniques are shown to improve significantly our ability to identify and quantify anomalies. An important conclusion is that significant anomalies in population data can often be linked to uneven patterns of births of people in cohorts born in the distant past. In the case of England and Wales, errors of more than 9% in the estimated size of some birth cohorts can be attributed to an uneven pattern of births. We propose methods that can use births data to improve estimates of the underlying population exposures. Finally, we consider the effect of anomalies on mortality forecasts and annuity values, and we find significant effects for some cohorts. Our methodology has general applicability to other sources of population data, such as the Human Mortality Database.

Keywords: Baby boom;Cohort–births–deaths exposures methodology; Convexity adjustment ratio; Deaths; Graphical diagnostics; Population data

Author(s): Andrew J.G.Cairns, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK David Blake, Cass Business School, London, UK Kevin Dowd Durham University Business School, UK and Amy R. Kessler Prudential Retirement, Newark, USA

Publication Date: 2016

Publication Site: Journal of the Royal Statistical Society

J. R. Statist. Soc. A (2016) 179, Part 4, pp. 975–1005

Excess mortality in England


Data download:



The numbers of expected deaths are estimated using statistical models and based on previous 5 years’ (2015 to 2019) mortality rates. Weekly monitoring of excess mortality from all causes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic provides an objective and comparable measure of the scale of the pandemic [reference 1]. Measuring excess mortality from all causes, instead of focusing solely on mortality from COVID-19, overcomes the issues of variation in testing and differential coding of cause of death between individuals and over time [reference 1].

In the weekly reports, estimates of excess deaths are presented by week of registration at national and subnational level, for subgroups of the population (age groups, sex, deprivation groups, ethnic groups) and by cause of death and place of death.

Author(s): Office for Health Improvement and Disparities

Publication Date: accessed 10 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Public PowerBI dashboard

Evidence from Britain shows covid-19 vaccines are very effective




THE SECOND wave of the pandemic has been devastating in much of the world. Since September 1st covid-19 has claimed the lives of 1.6m people, compared with 850,000 in the preceding nine months. In America alone, the death toll passed 500,000 on February 22nd. What is more, new variants that may be more transmissible, more deadly or better at evading the body’s immune response are spreading.

At last, some optimism is budding. More than 200m doses of covid-19 vaccine have been administered across 92 countries. After a slow start, America’s programme is gathering speed: 16% of adults have received a first shot, and President Joe Biden is on target to meet his goal of 150m doses by his 100th day in office. The number of infections in the country is falling by half every 14 days.

Publication Date: 21 February 2021

Publication Site: The Economist

Total deaths in the UK from 2000 to 2020


YearUnited KingdomEngland and WalesEnglandWalesScotlandNorthern Ireland

Date Accessed: 28 January 2021

Publication Site: Office for National Statistics, UK