An alternative method for assessing early mortality in contemporary populations

Andrea S. Wiley, Ivy L. Pike

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Biological anthropologists are interested in a population's early mortality rates for a variety of reasons. Early mortality (infant or juvenile) is of obvious importance to those interested in demography, but early mortality statistics are useful for life history analysis, paleodemography, and human adaptability studies, among others. In general, the form of mortality statistics is derived from demography, where chronological age is the gold standard for statistical calculation and comparison. However, there are numerous problems associated with the collection, analysis, and interpretation of early mortality statistics based on age, particularly for anthropological research, which is often conducted in small or non-calendrical-age humerate populations. The infant mortality rate (IMR), for example, is notoriously difficult to determine in populations where accurate accounting of age is not routine, and yet it is widely used in demography, public health, medicine, and social science research. Here we offer an alternative to age-based early mortality statistics that makes use of human biologists' interest in, and skill at, assessing human growth and development. Our proposal is to use developmental stages of juveniles instead of relying exclusively on age as the basis for mortality statistics. Death or survival according to a developmental stage (such as crawling or weaning) may provide more accurate data that are also more closely related to the cause of death. Developmental Stages have the added advantage of putting infants and children back at the center of the discussion of early mortality by focusing on their activities in relation to their environment. A case study from the Turkana population of Kenya illustrates the use of developmental stages in describing early mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-330
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1998


  • Development
  • Infant mortality
  • Methods
  • Statistics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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