By Xinhua writer Wang Zichen
BEIJING, March 2 (Xinhua) -- Mortality rates in China are down, contrary to a recent Wall Street Journal report, leading Chinese experts said.
In "Why Chinese men are dying," dated Feb. 24, the Journal reported that "mortality rates among Chinese men aged 41 to 60 have increased by 12 percent" over the decade through 2013.
Upon closer inspection, however, the report's conclusion was based on incomplete data, casting doubt over the veracity of the story.
The Journal reported the "disheartening news from China," following the release of mortality data from the country's insurance regulator.
The China Life Insurance Mortality Table (2010-2013) was released this year, replacing the previous iteration that covered the 2000-2003 period, which was dated and lacked breadth.
The earlier table presented mortality rates in two insurance categories, non-annuity and annuity. The latest data set, however, presented rates in three categories, non-annuity I (mainly for term and whole life insurance), non-annuity II (mainly for endowment insurance) and annuity.
Herein lies the problem, the Journal report appeared to only reference data from non-annuity I.
At a glance, the mortality rate for men aged 50 who held non-annuity policies during the 2000-2003 period was 0.3570 percent.
For the latter period there are now two sets of data. The mortality rate for men aged 50 was 0.4249 percent in the non-annuity I category, and 0.2908 percent in the non-annuity II category.
Thus, in response to whether a 50-year-old Chinese man is more likely to die in 2013 than a decade ago, the answer would be yes and no -- yes for category I, and no for category II.
In its report, and specifically the accompanying chart, the Journal appeared to compare mortality rates from the new non-annuity I category to non-annuity data from 2003, thereby reaching its alarming conclusion, said Dr. Wang Qing, chief actuary of ABC Life Insurance.
"That is a clear misreading of the numbers," said Dr. Wang, a veteran actuary trained in the U.S.
Wang Zheng, secretary general of China Association of Actuaries, which led the compilation of the new data set, agreed.
The two sets of data are incomparable, he told Xinhua, "For example, in the U.S., you can't compare the smoker mortality table to the composite mortality table."
The report did not elaborate on the reasons behind its choice of data.
"DOWN, NOT UP"
The China Life Insurance Mortality Table needed to be updated as the past decade has seen significant changes to mortality rates and increased life expectancies, Yuan Xucheng, an official with the insurance regulator, said.
"If you compare the 2013 numbers from non-annuity II with the non-annuity numbers from 2003, mortality rates drop by 25 to 30 percent," said Dr. Wang. "For men aged 41 to 60, mortality rates decreased by about 20 percent".
The mistake of the Journal report was that it only used data from non-annuity I, he added.
The mortality rates in the annuity sections, including the rates for Chinese men aged 41 to 60, were consistently lower in 2013 compared to 2003.
"A reduction of men in their working prime could put a damper on China's productivity growth," the Journal warned, after speculating that "financial success breeds bad health habits" and "the pressure to perform and accumulate wealth in a male-dominated society adds to the health issues."
Wang Zheng with the China Association of Actuaries advised caution when dealing with the data.
The life insurance mortality table was compiled on the basis of life insurance policies sold -- not an accurate census of the Chinese population, he said.
China has a population of over 1.3 billion, but the latest table was compiled with data from 180 million people.