Revising civil war death counts using actuarial methods

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By Dale S. Hagstrom | 10 September 2012

One hundred fifty years ago, the United States was embroiled in the early years of the most deadly and destructive war it has ever endured. The nation paid heavily for the sin of slavery, not only in massive property damage and economic dislocation but also in human lives.

J. David Hacker, an associate professor of history at Binghamton University in the State University of New York system, recently published “A Census-Based Count of the Civil War Dead,” which takes a global approach in identifying the excess deaths caused by the Civil War. Hacker employs techniques that would be familiar to any actuary, including concerns for data sources and quality, creative solutions, and sensitivity-testing of assumptions. While actuaries may need to add a financial component to reflect the time value of money or the effects of selective competition in their work, Hacker’s methods and concerns working with historical census data are otherwise quite familiar.