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Growth Balance

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Growth Balance: BACKGROUND

Several demographic techniques have been developed to assess and adjust information on deaths that come from civil registration, demographic surveillance, censuses or population based surveys that ask about deaths of household members during a specified time before the survey period.

Some methods compare data from independent sources (direct capture-recapture approaches) while others are analytic indirect methods based on assumptions on the population age distribution. The basic idea behind these indirect methods is that everyone who reaches a given age must die at an older age. By making some assumptions it is possible to compare deaths by age to the population by age.


Growth balance is an indirect approach to estimating the completeness of death registration data. For any population, the entry rate minus the growth rate must be equal to the exit or death rate. Systematic differences between the entry rate and the growth rate (which is a residual estimate of the exit rate calculated from the census age distributions) and the exit rate (calculated from information on deaths by age) are used to identify differences in reporting of population and of deaths. The magnitude of the inconsistency can be interpreted as a measure of completeness of death reporting relative to population reporting and can then be used to adjust the mortality estimates calculated from the original data.

The original Brass Growth Balance assumes a stable, closed population which in demographic terms means there have been no changes in fertility or mortality and no migration.

Its advantage is that it only requires the distributions of the population and of deaths by age.

Its limitation is that the assumption that a population is stable is often inappropriate, and means that the approach cannot be used with sub-national populations.

Where two census distributions and a distribution of intercensal deaths are available, a reformulation eliminates the need for assuming a stable population.

All indirect approaches assume that misreporting of deaths is constant across the age groups in the population or part of a population under consideration, such as people of a given age or older. Since this is unlikely to be true for child deaths, the approach is usually applied to adult mortality. The method provides information on when this assumption is violated and thus when the method becomes inappropriate.

An alternative is the Preston Coale (1980) method. This requires detailed information on ages at death and a measure of the growth rate. It is more vulnerable to age misreporting (exaggeration of age at death) but less sensitive to mortality decline (a violation of the assumption of stability).

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United Nations United Nations: Methods for estimating adult mortality. Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs UN Secretariat. P21-26. ESA/P/WP.175 2002.

United Nations

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Population Studies

Biological Aspects of Demography

East-West Center

Population Studies

Population Index Preston, SH; Coale, AJ; Trussell, J; Weinstein, M (1980) Estimating the completeness of adult deaths in populations that are approximately stable. Population Index; 46: 179-202.

United Nations

World Bank Timaeus, I; Graham, W (1989) Measuring adult mortality in developing countries: a review and assessment of methods. Policy, Planning and Research Working Papers. Population and Human Resources Department, World Bank. Washington DC: World Bank.

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World Health Organisation Example exercise from WHO

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