Methodological Notes – Mortality Module

Updated: January 2019

Concepts and Definitions

Measuring the pattern of mortality in a population is an important aspect of assessing the health status of a population, although death represents only the severest consequence of ill health. The most basic information required is the number of deaths, which when divided by the size of the population, produces the crude death rate, expressed as deaths per 1000 persons.

Crude death rate = (number of deaths during year X) / (mean population of year X)

Because infancy, defined as age under 1 year, is a particularly vulnerable period in a person’s life, the number of infant deaths is recorded, from which the infant mortality rate (IMR) is constructed, expressed as deaths per 1000 livebirths. IMR is widely used in international comparisons.

Infant mortality rate = (number of deaths under 1 year of age during year X) / (number of livebirths during year X)

The rate is Among infant deaths during year X, some were born in year (X-1), and among livebirths in year X, some may go on to die in year (X+1). Some statistical agencies can track a cohort of newborn infants for one year after birth using electronic data linkage between birth and death databases.

Examining the causes of death provides more detailed information on the relative importance of different health problems. Because populations differ in their age-sex composition, and death is very much age-dependent, simple comparisons of crude death rates among populations can be misleading. A more meaningful comparison utilizes age-standardized mortality rates (ASMR). ASMRs adjust for differences in the age distribution of the population by applying the observed age-specific mortality rates for each population (the study population) to a standard population, referred to as the “direct” method:

Age-standardized mortality rate = Σ(ri Ni) / ΣNi Where ri is the age-specific mortality rate for the ith age group of the study population Ni is the number of persons in the ith age group of the standard population

The rate is usually expressed as deaths per 100000 persons. Any population can serve as a standard. When comparing regions within a country, the national population tends to be used as the standard. For international comparisons, there are hypothetical or artificially constructed populations. For ASMR, the standard population used in CircHOB is the European Standard Population (ESP) used by Eurostat until 2013, when it changed the number of people in each age group, which adds up to 100000. CircHOB continues to use the pre-2013 ESP to ensure comparison with previous years’ data without re-calculating all rates. Note that the World Standard Population of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is used for computing age-standardized cancer incidence rates.

The age distribution of the European Standard Population is as follows:

Age group Population
0-4 8, 000
5-9 7, 000
10-14 7, 000
15-19 7, 000
20-24 7, 000
25-29 7, 000
30-34 7, 000
35-39 7, 000
40-44 7, 000
45-49 7, 000
50-54 7, 000
55-59 6, 000
60-64 5, 000
65-69 4, 000
70-74 3, 000
75-79 2, 000
80-84 1, 000
85+ 1, 000
Total 100, 000

Source: Eurostat (2013). Revision of the European Standard Population. Annex C shows the pre-2013 age distribution.

The causes of death are coded according to the International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition (ICD-10). This is a system of alphanumeric codes, organized into chapters (I to XX).

CircHOB computes and presents ASMRs for several important groups of causes at the ICD-10 chapter level

All Causes A00-Y89 [Chapters I-XX]
Neoplasms C00-D48 [Chapter II]
Diseases of the Circulatory System I00-I99 [Chapter IX]
Diseases of the Respiratory System J00-J99 [Chapter X]
Injury V01-Y89 [Chapter XX]

A widely used health indicator is life expectancy at birth (LE0) which summarizes the mortality experience of a population that prevails across all age groups. It can be defined as the average number of years that a newborn is expected to live if current mortality rates continue to apply. Life expectancy can be computed for other ages, eg. at age 65. The computation of LE is complex, and requires the construction of a life table consisting of the probability of dying, the death rate and the number of survivors for each age or age group. LE at birth is heavily influenced by the extent of deaths among infants and the very young, but is not affected by the different age structures of the populations being compared.

Life tables using 5-year intervals of data (except <1 and 1-4 years) are termed abridged life tables. CircHOB uses the templates for computing abridged life tables described in Toson B, Baker A. Life Expectancy at Birth: Methodological Options for Small Populations, United Kingdom Office of National Statistics, National Statistics Methodological Series No.33, 2003.

Data Sources and Limitations

All statistical agencies maintain mortality databases which contain information relating to the number and causes of death and also basic demographic data of the decedents. As the ages of the decedents are not known in all deaths, the sum of all deaths with known causes is generally less than the total number of deaths.

For data on population age distribution used in calculating crude, age-specific and age-standardized mortality rates, refer to the Population Module in CircHOB. Data on livebirths for use in calculating infant mortality rates can be found in the Fertility Module, unless otherwise specified.

United States

United States data for deaths and their causes are available from CDC Wonder > Underlying Cause of Death. Infant mortality data are from > Linked Birth/Infant Death Records.

LE at birth for the US nationally are reported in the annual report Health United States by the National Center for Health Statistics Abridged life tables are specially constructed for Alaska based on age-specific mortality rates.


Mortality data for Canada and its northern territories are from Statistics Canada: Table 13-10-0710-01 (formerly CANSIM 102-0504) Infant mortality rates are from table 13-10-0713-01 (formerly CANSIM 102- 0507)

ASMRs reported by Statistics Canada are standardized to the 2011 population of Canada, and thus need to be re-calculated to the European Standard Population. Deaths by cause, age and sex are publicly accessible only for Canada nationally from a series of tables from Table 13-10- 0141-01(formerly CANSIM 102-0522) to Table 13-10-0156-01(formerly CANSIM 102-0540) Data for the territories are accessed from the branch research data centre located in ICHR in Yellowknife.

Life expectancy data for 2000-04 are available by single years from Table 13-10-0032-01 (formerly CANSIM 102-0511) From 2005 on, data are reported as 3-year rolling averages, in Table 13-10- 0063-01 (formerly CANSIM 102-4308)


Statistics Greenland publishes the number and causes of death by age and sex, and life expectancy (5 years’ data combined).

> Population > Vital statistics > Deaths and mean population (BEEBBDM1) > Population > Vital statistics > Mortality table (BEEDT) > Population > Vital statistics >Births > Livebirths (BEEBBL0) > Health > National Board of Health > Causes of death (SUELDA1)

Faroe Islands

The number of deaths by age and sex and life expectancy (2-year rolling average) are from Statistics Faroe Islands.

> Population and elections > Vital statistics > Livebirths by mother’s age IB02010 > Population and elections > Vital statistics > Life expectancy IB02050 > Population and elections > Vital statistics > Causes of death IB02090 (only data after 2006 are available; earlier years’ data are from NOMESCO, no longer archived).


Mortality data are from Statistics Iceland

> Deaths > Causes of death > Deaths by sex, age and main causes MAN05301 > Deaths> Deaths > Deaths and crude death rate by age and sex MAN05210 > Deaths > Deaths > Infant mortality and late fetal deaths MAN05321 > Deaths > Deaths > Life expectancy and number of survivors MAN05401


Data on the number of deaths by age and sex are from Statistics Denmark’s Statbank table DOD IMRs are calculated from death data in DOD livebirth data in FOD Life expectancy is available from HISB7

Causes of death data are from Eurostat > Population and social conditions > Health > Causes of death > General mortality > hlth_cd_aro


Mortality data are available from Statistics Norway Deaths by age and sex in Table 8462 Life expectancy in Table 5797 Infant mortality rates in Table 5378

Causes of death data are from Eurostat >Population and social conditions > Health > Causes of death > General mortality > hlth_cd_aro. Regional data are requested from the National Institute of Public Health.


Mortality data are from Statistics Sweden > Population > Population statistics > Deaths > Deaths by region, age (during the year) > Population > Population statistics > Deaths > Life expectancy at birth by county and sex > Population > Population statistics > Livebirths > Livebirths by region, mother’s age and child’s sex

Causes of death data are from the National Board of Health statistical database.


Mortality data are available from Statistics Finland’s Statfin database

> Population > Deaths > Deaths by age, sex and area – 004 > Population > Births > Livebirths by sex, age of mother, and area – 006 > Population > Deaths > Life expectancy at birth – 006 [national only]

Life expectancy for the regions are calculated based on 5 years’ mortality data.

Causes of death data for Finland nationally are from Eurostat >Population and social conditions > Health > Causes of death > General mortality > hlth_cd_aro Regional data are requested from Statistics Finland.

Mortality data are from Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat). Only the Russian website contains the interactive database for regional data, which requires registration and login

Causes of death data for Russia and its regions are available from the Demographic Yearbook, various years. Causes are presented at the level of ICD-10 chapters only, not for individual causes. Data on suicide are from the Russian Ministry of Health, courtesy of Prof. Boris Revich of the Laboratory of Environmental Health, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.