IDEM 182

Life Table and Decomposition Analysis for Population Health Research (using R)

Dr. Alyson van Raalte and Dr. Marília Nepomuceno

Start: 11 June 2018
End: 20 June 2018

Location: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock, Germany

Dr. Alyson van Raalte
Dr. Marília Nepomuceno

Course description

The course will present essential demographic methods for health and mortality research.  Participants will develop their skills in applying these methods in R.  First, we will introduce the standard life table construction, including additional life table quantities such as the median and modal ages at death, and measures of age-at-death variation. Second, we will present some decomposition methods that will allow us to investigate differences between mortality measures by age, sex, and cause of death.


09:00-10:00: Orientation Meeting (Only on  June 11th )
10:00-12:00: Lecture+ Practical
12:00-13:30: Lunch break
13:30-15:30: Lecture + Practical
15:30-16:00: Coffee break
16:00-17:00: Work on Individual Projects to be presented on June 20th

The course will run over an 8-day period, with computer lab sessions scheduled every day. Students should prepare to work full time (40 hours per week) for the duration of the course.

Schedule (provisional)

Day 1

  • Building the life table according to HMD protocol
  • Implementing Kannisto function for older ages
  • Calculating confidence intervals for life expectancy

Day 2

  • Other longevity measures
  • Modal age at death
  • Quantiles in ages at death
  • Measures of age-at-death variation (i.e. standard deviation, life disparity, variance, IQR)

Day 3

  • Prevalence-based measure of healthy life expectancy (Sullivan)
  • Multiple decrement life tables
  • Cause-deleted life tables

Day 4

  • Decomposition 1 (Direct vs. compositional)
  • Kitagawa CDR
  • Das Gupta
  • Vaupel and Canudas Romo (2003)

Day 5

  • Decomposition 2 (Life expectancy by age)
  • Arriaga/Andreev/Pressat (discrete)
  • Pollard (continuous)
  • Adding causes of death

Day 6

  • Decomposition 3 (General frameworks)
  • Stepwise decomposition
  • Continuous change (PWH and Caswell)
  • Decomposition 4 (Contour decomposition)

Day 7

  • Decomposition 5 (Variance decomposition)
  • Between- and Within-group decomposition
  • Spread, allocation and timing decomposition (Nau/Firebaugh)

Day 8

  • Project presentation

Course prerequisites

Students should be familiar with basic life table construction. Ideally, students should also have a basic understanding of decomposition methods. It is recommended that students read Preston et al. (2001) Chapters 2-4 prior to the commencement of the course (or an equivalent textbook covering life tables and decomposition). A basic command of R, including data handling, for-loops, and writing basic functions, is a prerequisite. If you have never used R in your research work, please make sure you have sufficient knowledge before the course starts, e.g. by attending a free online course such as Alternatively or additionally you can also use the tutorial website from UCLA ( or any other R-tutorial which goes into sufficient detail. 


Students are expected to submit a mini-project upon completion of the course. For the project students can either analyze data related to their own research or they can submit a project based on datasets that are provided by the course instructor. The projects and preliminary results will be presented on the last day of class.

Suggested reading

  • Preston S., Heuveline P. and Guillot M. 2001. “Demography: Measuring and Modeling Population Processes”. Wiley-Blackwell.

Further readings with demographic examples and applications will also be provided.

Financial support

There is no tuition fee for this course.  Students are expected to pay their own transportation and living costs.  However, a limited number of scholarships are available on a competitive basis for outstanding candidates and for those applicants who might otherwise not be able to come, supported by ERC grant # 716323 (PI: van Raalte).

Recruitment of students

  • Applicants should either be enrolled in a PhD program or have received their PhD.
  • A maximum of 20 students will be admitted.
  • The selection will be made by the MPIDR based on the applicants’ scientific qualifications.

How to apply

  • Applications should be sent by email to the MPIDR (address below).  Please begin your email message with a statement saying that you apply for course IDEM 182 - Life Table and Decomposition Analysis for Population Health Research. You also need to attach the following items integrated in *a single pdf file*:  (1) A two-page curriculum vitae, including a list of your scholarly publications.  (2) A one-page letter from your supervisor at your home institution supporting your application.  (3) A two-page statement of your research and how it relates to the course.  Please include a short description of your knowledge of basic life table construction, decomposition methods , and of your fluency in R.  At the very end of your research statement, in a separate paragraph, please indicate (a) whether you would like to be considered for financial support and (b) if you would be able to come without financial aid from our side.
  • Send your email to Heiner Maier (
  • Application deadline is 10 April 2018.
  • Applicants will be informed of their acceptance by 30 April 2018.
  • Applications submitted after the deadline will be considered only if space is available.
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.