Estimation of age structure in anthropological demography

Lyle W. Konigsberg, Susan R. Frankenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The past decade has produced considerable debate over the feasibility of paleodemographic research, with much attention focusing on the question of reliability of age estimates. We show here that in cases where age is estimated rather than known, the traditional method of assigning individuals to age classes will produce biased estimates of age structure. We demonstrate the effect of this bias both mathematically and by computer simulation, and show how a more appropriate method from the fisheries literature (the “iterated age length key”) can be used to estimate age structure. Because it is often the case that ages are also estimated for extant groups, we suggest that our results are relevant to the general field of anthropological demography, and that it is time for us to improve the statistical basis for age structure estimation. We further suggest that the oft noted paucity of older individuals in skeletal collections is a simple result of the use of inappropriate methods of age estimation, and that this problem can be rectified in the future by using maximum likelihood estimates of life table or hazard functions incorporating the uncertainty of age estimates. © 1992 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-256
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Computer simulation
  • Iterated age‐length key
  • Paleodemography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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