IDEM 116

Microsimulation using Socsim

Carl Mason

Start:  9 March 2020
End:  13 March 2020

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


  • Carl Mason
  • Tom Theile

Course description

In demographic microsimulation entire populations are simulated at the level of the individual.  Each “person” in the simulation has individual characteristics and “experiences” vital demographic events according to rates which may be affected by her characteristics or those of any of her kin.

Microsimulation is an important tool for answering questions that deal with kinship networks, changing demographic rates, complex family formation rules, more than one sex, or any question where individuals in a population differ by more than just age.  As such, microsimulation can be of considerable use to quantitative anthropologists, historians, statisticians, demographers, epidemiologists, and population geneticists.

Unfortunately, the power of demographic microsimulation comes at the cost of numerous and complex inputs and vast quantities of data to analyze.

This course introduces students to microsimulation using Socsim – a program developed at UC Berkeley.  During the course we will examine all of Socsim input requirements and produce a simulated data set that will address a question of intergenerational resource allocation. Students will have the opportunity to continue to pursue the question after the conclusion of the course, hopefully for publication.

The goal of the course is to understand both how and when (not) to simulate.  In other words we will be interested both in the mechanics of setting up and running microsimulations with Socsim and in understanding when microsimulation is an appropriate tool.


There will be one hour of lecture followed by three hours of supervised Lab each day.  Instructors will be available outside of scheduled class time as needed.  In general students should expect to spend a significant amount of  time outside of class developing simulations of their own.

Tentative Schedule

March 9

  • “Micro” vs “Macro” simulation
  • Compiling, configuring and running Socsim; inspecting output files
  • Recovering input rates using hazard analysis

March 10

  • A closer look at input rates
  • Simulating a marriage squeeze
  • Comparing observed and predicted outcomes

March 11

  • Reckoning kinship
  • Effects of population diversity within kinship networks
  • Counting relatives and years of coexistence

March 12

  • A realistic project : The Sandwich Generation
  • Measuring generational effects of falling mortality and delayed fertility

March 13

  • Final presentations.
  • The promise and limitations of microsimulation and Socsim


To benefit from the course students must be familiar with demographic methods and notation, e.g. life tables and demographic rates, and have a good grasp of hazard models.  The course will be most useful to students with good computing skills in R, but superb skills in another statistical package could substitute.


There will be assignments for each day.  An acceptable solution to all assignments serves as the examination for this course.


There is no tuition fee for this course.  Students are expected to pay their own transportation and living costs.  If you are accepted, MPIDR can provide advice on convenient places to stay in Rostock.

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 116 – Microsimulation. 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 demographic methods, your grasp of hazard models, and your fluency in R.  At the very end of your research statement, in a separate paragraph, please confirm that, if admitted, you will be able to come without financial aid from our side.
  • Send your email to Heiner Maier (
  • Application deadline is 20 January 2020.
  • Applicants will be informed of their acceptance by 31 January 2020.
  • 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.