A mortality table shows the rate of deaths occurring in a defined population during a selected time interval or survival from birth to any given age. Statistics included in a mortality table show the probability of a person's death before their next birthday, based on their age. Mortality tables are also known as "life tables," "actuarial tables," or "morbidity tables."

BREAKING DOWN Mortality Table

Mortality tables are mathematically complex grids of numbers that show the probability of death for members of a given population within a defined period of time. Mortality tables are usually constructed separately for men and women. Other characteristics can also be included to distinguish different risks, such as smoking status, occupation, and socio-economic class. There are even actuarial tables that determine longevity in relation to weight.

The life insurance industry relies heavily on mortality tables, as does the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Mortality tables are based on characteristics, such as gender and age. A mortality table gives probabilities based on deaths per thousands, or the number of people per 1,000 living who are expected to die in a given year. Life insurance companies use mortality tables to help determine premiums and to make sure the insurance company remains solvent.

Mortality tables typically cover from birth through age 100, in one-year increments. You can use a mortality table to look up the probability of death for someone of any age. Not surprisingly, the probability of death increases with age.

Mortality Tables in Use

To use mortality tables, you first need the age of an individual to see what the table says about the chances that they will die when compared with the rest of the group. In the case of a newborn male, there is less than one half of one-10,000th of a percent that he will die when compared with the rest of the group. That would give him a life expectancy of around 75. However, according to the 2005 mortality table used by the Social Security Administration, a 119-year-old man has a more than 90 percent chance of dying when compared with the rest of the group, or a life expectancy of just over six months.

Individuals vs. Groups

Mortality tables are less effective for individuals than they are for groups. This is so because mortality probability is a factor of more than just age and gender. Many variables must be considered in the insurance process. Making projections on the life or death of any specific individual is a complex actuarial process.