Assessing excess mortality in times of pandemics based on principal component analysis of weekly mortality data: the case of COVID-19

Vanella, P., Basellini, U., Lange, B.
Genus, 77:16, 1–36 (2021)
Open Access


The COVID-19 outbreak has called for renewed attention to the need for sound statistical analyses to monitor mortality patterns and trends over time. Excess mortality has been suggested as the most appropriate indicator to measure the overall burden of the pandemic in terms of mortality. As such, excess mortality has received considerable interest since the outbreak of COVID-19 began. Previous approaches to estimate excess mortality are somewhat limited, as they do not include sufficiently long-term trends, correlations among different demographic and geographic groups, or autocorrelations in the mortality time series. This might lead to biased estimates of excess mortality, as random mortality fluctuations may be misinterpreted as excess mortality. We propose a novel approach that overcomes the named limitations and draws a more realistic picture of excess mortality. Our approach is based on an established forecasting model that is used in demography, namely, the Lee-Carter model. We illustrate our approach by using the weekly age- and sex-specific mortality data for 19 countries and the current COVID-19 pandemic as a case study. Our findings show evidence of considerable excess mortality during 2020 in Europe, which affects different countries, age, and sex groups heterogeneously. Our proposed model can be applied to future pandemics as well as to monitor excess mortality from specific causes of death.

Schlagwörter: Belgien, Estland, Finnland, Frankreich, Israel, Lettland, Litauen, Niederlande, Norwegen, Österreich, Polen, Schottland, Schweden, Schweiz, Slowakei, Slowenien, Spanien, Ungarn, epidemics, excess mortality, forecasts, mortality trends, stochastic models, time series
Das Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (MPIDR) in Rostock ist eines der international führenden Zentren für Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Es gehört zur Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, einer der weltweit renommiertesten Forschungsgemeinschaften.