IDEM 134

Matrix Approaches to Health Demography

Course coordinators: Hal Caswell, Neil Mehta
Start: 13 January 2016
End: 20 January 2016
Location: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock, Germany

Hal Caswell
Neil Mehta

Course description

Population projection matrices describe the dynamics of individuals, cohorts, and populations, in a way that generalizes traditional life table methods. This course will introduce the use of matrix methods to analyze some of the basic problems of health demography: measures of longevity and healthy longevity, the dynamics of individual transitions among health and disease states, and the projection of the health composition of populations. The matrix approach will be used to extend the typical analyses in two directions: (1) the calculation of average quantities will be accompanied by analyses of variances due to individual stochasticity, and (2) sensitivity analyses will be introduced to evaluate the effects of parameters on the demographic results. Methods to be introduced include Markov chains, Markov chains with rewards, multistate matrix models, and matrix calculus methods for sensitivity analysis. These models will be compared to some of the traditional approaches to health demography.

The course will be a mixture of lectures, discussions, and computer exercises.

Basic demography (human, plant, or animal), including life tables and their applications. Familiarity with the basics of matrix algebra. Fluency in Matlab or R.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of computer exercises and class participation.

A reading list will 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.

Recruitment of students

  • Applicants should either be enrolled in a PhD program (those well on their way to completion will be favored) 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 134 – Matrix Approaches to Health Demography. 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 life tables and matrix algebra and of your fluency in Matlab or 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 6 December 2015.
  • Applicants will be informed of their acceptance by 15 December 2015.
  • 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.