Abstract

This paper compares several methods of generating confidence intervals for forecasts of population size. Two rest on a demographic model for age-structured populations with stochastic fluctuations in vital rates. Two rest on empirical analyses of past forecasts of population sizes of Sweden at five-year intervals from 1780 to 1980 inclusive. Confidence intervals produced by the different methods vary substantially. The relative sizes differ in the various historical periods. The narrowest intervals offer a lower bound on uncertainty about the future. Procedures for estimating a range of confidence intervals are tentatively recommended. A major lesson is that finitely many observations of the past and incomplete theoretical understanding of the present and future can justify at best a range of confidence intervals for population projections. Uncertainty attaches not only to the point forecasts of future population, but also to the estimates of those forecasts’ uncertainty.

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