Volume 31 - Article 9 | Pages 217–246  

Reverse survival method of fertility estimation: An evaluation

By Thomas Spoorenberg


Background: For the most part, demographers have relied on the ever-growing body of sample surveys collecting full birth history to derive total fertility estimates in less statistically developed countries. Yet alternative methods of fertility estimation can return very consistent total fertility estimates by using only basic demographic information.

Objective: This paper evaluates the consistency and sensitivity of the reverse survival method -- a fertility estimation method based on population data by age and sex collected in one census or a single-round survey.

Methods: A simulated population was first projected over 15 years using a set of fertility and mortality age and sex patterns. The projected population was then reverse survived using the Excel template FE_reverse_4.xlsx, provided with Timæus and Moultrie (2012). Reverse survival fertility estimates were then compared for consistency to the total fertility rates used to project the population. The sensitivity was assessed by introducing a series of distortions in the projection of the population and comparing the difference implied in the resulting fertility estimates.

Results: The reverse survival method produces total fertility estimates that are very consistent and hardly affected by erroneous assumptions on the age distribution of fertility or by the use of incorrect mortality levels, trends, and age patterns. The quality of the age and sex population data that is ‘reverse survived’ determines the consistency of the estimates. The contribution of the method for the estimation of past and present trends in total fertility is illustrated through its application to the population data of five countries characterized by distinct fertility levels and data quality issues.

Conclusions: Notwithstanding its simplicity, the reverse survival method of fertility estimation has seldom been applied. The method can be applied to a large body of existing and easily available population data -- both contemporary and historical -- that so far has remained largely under-exploited, and contribute to the study of fertility levels and trends.

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