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Life Potential as a Basic Demographic Indicator


  • Francisco Goerlich


  • Ángel Soler



This paper proposes an indicator that integrates life expectancy with the demographic structure of the population for a given society. By doing this, we have a simple indicator of mortality and aging combined, which could be very useful for developed societies. As is widely known, life expectancy at birth is independent of the demographic structure of the population, and therefore is adequate for measuring overall mortality. However, it neglects to take into account the fact that as life expectancy increases society ages, and so looking at life expectancy alone can produce an overly optimistic view of the development process, especially if we pay attention to future sustainability. Aging can in fact affect quality of life and sustainability in the long run. The indicators for aging are usually very crude, such as providing information on the share of the population who are 65 and over. We propose a simple indicator that integrates life expectancy at different ages, not only at birth, with the demographic structure of the population at a given point in time. The indicator has an intuitive interpretation in terms of the life potential, or biological capital, of society; and given that it is a weighted average, its changes can be easily decomposed into reductions in mortality (gains in life expectancy) and aging for different age intervals. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

Suggested Citation

  • Francisco Goerlich & Ángel Soler, 2013. "Life Potential as a Basic Demographic Indicator," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 110(2), pages 537-548, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:soinre:v:110:y:2013:i:2:p:537-548
    DOI: 10.1007/s11205-011-9942-2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael Grossman, 1972. "The Demand for Health: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gros72-1, January.
    2. Li Gan & Michael D. Hurd & Daniel L. McFadden, 2005. "Individual Subjective Survival Curves," NBER Chapters,in: Analyses in the Economics of Aging, pages 377-412 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Osberg, Lars & Sharpe, Andrew, 2002. "An Index of Economic Well-Being for Selected OECD Countries," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 48(3), pages 291-316, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Udaya S Mishra & Mohammad Kashif Khan & Mala Ramanathan, 2013. "Should life potential be a better alternative to life expectancy at birth? an Indian illustration," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 33(2), pages 1311-1316.

    More about this item


    Life expectancy; Life table; Aging; Demography; J10; J11; J14;

    JEL classification:

    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination


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