Advancing the Data Revolution through Record Linkage and Data Integration

IUSSP session at the 15th Conference of the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS), in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on 6 December 2016


Organized by the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Innovations for Strengthening Civil Registration and Vital Statistical Systems.


On 6 December 2016, the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Innovations in Strengthening Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Systems held an invited session titled “Advancing the Data Revolution through Record Linkage and Data Integration” at the 15th International Association for Official Statistics Conference in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). This initiative was part of the IUSSP’s efforts to facilitate contributions by demographers to the 2030 development agenda’s data revolution. The session was attended by 42 participants The focus of the session was to explore the potential of record linkage methods to improve subnational mortality estimates in low- and middle-income by utilizing multiple incomplete sources of data in concert with incomplete vital registration data. The session included three papers, presented by Fritz Scheuren (National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, United States), Ching Choi (University of New South Wales, Australia) and Romesh Silva (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) and was chaired by Juraj Riecan (UN ESCWA) with Marwan Khawaja (UN ESCWA) as discussant. 


Fritz Scheuren provided a historical and theoretical overview of the application of record linkage to improve official demographic statistics. He noted the strong theoretical underpinnings of record linkage developed by Ivan Fellegi and colleagues at Statistics Canada. But he also noted the challenges of ‘big data’ whereby as the number of linkable data sources increase, the measurement uncertainty of our demographic estimates also increases.   


Ching Choi discussed recent lessons learned from applying record linkage methods to improve mortality estimates for indigenous Australians. He gave a detailed account of the limitations of using indirect methods to estimate mortality differentials between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. He then presented recent work linking indigenous death registration records to both the population census and also administrative records. His work highlighted the challenges of using incomplete data sources, differential quality in linkages, and the notable variation in data consistency across geographic space. In conclusion, he suggested a number of strategies to possibly improve data consistency in record linkage studies, but he noted that self-reported nature of indigenous status poses a major challenge in using record linkage to estimate mortality differences between indigenous and non-indigenous populations.    


Romesh Silva reviewed some of the recent lessons-learned in applying record linkage methods to mortality data in low- and middle-income countries. He noted the challenges of linking records when there are no common unique identifiers across data sources, the heavy reliance on deterministic linkage methods, and the strong simplifying assumptions underpinning dual systems estimation. However, he noted promising applications of record linkage in Brazil, South Africa, and the Philippines which have drawn on multiple data sources, identified key limitations of civil registration data, and provided a robust means for adjustment of vital statistics based on civil registration data.  


These papers along with a selected papers presented at a recent IUSSP workshop are being prepared for publication in a special issue on record linkage and vital registration to be published by the Statistical Journal of the International Association of Official Statistics.


Advancing the Data Revolution through Record Linkage and Data Integration

Chair: Juraj Riecan (UN ESCWA) 

Discussant: Marwan Khawaja (UN ESCWA)


  • “Lessons Learned from Record Linkage Applications to Advance Mortality Statistics of Indigenous Populations in Australia: Unpacking Sources of Error and Magnitudes of Bias.”
    – Ching Choi (University of New South Wales, Australia)

  • “Reflections on Record Linkage as a Tool to Advance Measurement, Interoperability and Systems Development.”
    – Fritz Scheuren (NORC, United States)

  • “Strengthening Vital Statistics in Low and Middle Income Countries Through Record Linkage: Past Lessons, Current Challenges, and Future Opportunities.”
    – Romesh Silva (UN ESCWA)