What is a Mortality Table?

Mary McMahon

A mortality table is a visual representation of death rates. Mortality tables are used in the insurance industry to assess risks and they are also used by people like statisticians who are interested in collecting and maintaining data on human populations. Many mortality tables are available for free online, with very reliable examples coming from government agencies that compile statistics for general public use. When reviewing such tables, it is very important to check the date the table was made to see which period of time it covers.

Mortality tables are used to calculate premiums in the life insurance industry.
Mortality tables are used to calculate premiums in the life insurance industry.

On a mortality table, columns provide listings of ages, probability of death at each age, and life expectancy. The information that fills the table is pulled from statistical filings used to monitor the population. Since extensive data is available, a mortality table can be highly accurate. People can use these charts to look at changes in mortality over time or to assess specific risks for particular individuals.

Looking at the population as a whole can provide a skewed view. As a result, most mortality tables are presented by variable. One of the most common ways to break up data is by gender, with data for men and women presented separately. Socioeconomic class and race can be other factors that may be used to subdivide data because they can influence mortality statistics. Other mortality tables may divide information by medical history, looking at specific risk factors ranging from occupation to personal habits to correlate the data in a way that will be meaningful.

Also known as a life table or an actuarial table, a mortality table is not a guaranteed predictor for an individual's life expectancy, but is rather a general statistical guide. If a mortality table indicates, for example, that there is a 75% death rate among people of a given age, this does not mean that a specific individual is 75% likely to die within the next year. It simply indicates that, statistically speaking, this is the overall death rate for people in that age group. A number of other factors may come into play in determining outcomes for individuals.

Mortality tables are constantly updated to reflect new information. Life expectancy overall is usually on the rise, which means that these charts can become outdated over time. Expectancies for different groups can fluctuate more radically than the general population in response to a variety of factors, ranging from eradication of infectious disease through vaccination to more refined diagnostic screening for people at risk of certain diseases.

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