Volume 40 - Article 9 | Pages 219–260

Improving age measurement in low- and middle-income countries through computer vision: A test in Senegal

By Stephane Helleringer, Chong You, Laurence Fleury, Laetitia Douillot, Insa Diouf, Cheikh Tidiane Ndiaye, Valerie Delaunay, Rene Vidal

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Date received:23 Mar 2018
Date published:29 Jan 2019
Word count:7320
Keywords:age, age measurement, age misreporting, census, Senegal, survey data


Background: Age misreporting is pervasive in most low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). It may bias estimates of key demographic indicators, such as those required to track progress towards sustainable development goals. Existing methods to improve age data are often ineffective, cannot be adopted on a large scale, and/or do not permit estimating age over the entire life course.

Objective: We tested a computer vision approach, which produces an age estimate by analyzing a photograph of an individual’s face.

Methods: We constituted a small training dataset in a population of Senegal covered by a health and demographic surveillance system (HDSS) since 1962. We collected facial images of 353 women aged 18 and above, whose age could be ascertained precisely using HDSS data. We developed automatic age estimation (AAE) systems through machine learning and cross-validation.

Results: AAE was highly accurate in distinguishing women of reproductive age from women aged 50 and older (area under the curve > 0.95). It allowed estimating age in completed years, with a level of precision comparable to those obtained in European or East Asian populations with training datasets of similar sizes (mean absolute error = 4.62 years).

Conclusions: Computer vision might help improve age ascertainment in demographic datasets collected in LMICs. Further improving the accuracy of this approach will require constituting larger and more complete training datasets in additional LMIC populations.

Contribution: Our work highlights the potential benefits of widely used computer science tools for improving demographic measurement in LMIC settings with deficient data.

Author's Affiliation

Stephane Helleringer - Johns Hopkins University, United States of America [Email]
Chong You - Johns Hopkins University, United States of America [Email]
Laurence Fleury - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France [Email]
Laetitia Douillot - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France [Email]
Insa Diouf - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France [Email]
Cheikh Tidiane Ndiaye - Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie, Senegal [Email]
Valerie Delaunay - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France [Email]
Rene Vidal - Johns Hopkins University, United States of America [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Estimating mortality from external causes using data from retrospective surveys: A validation study in Niakhar (Senegal)
Volume 38 - Article 32

» The Likoma Network Study: Context, data collection and initial results
Volume 21 - Article 15

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