14 Jun

An Age of Change: A More Precise Way to Measure Children’s Age in DHS Surveys

DHS-7 surveys are using a more precise method to calculate children’s age. The change, though far-reaching, has very little impact on interpretation and use of DHS data for program managers and policymakers. It does, however, have major implications for researchers doing secondary analysis of DHS data. If you are working with DHS datasets, a full description of the changes to the age-related variables is documented on The DHS Program website, and a brief summary is presented below.

Background:

For most of DHS history, interviewers have collected age data by asking the month and year of birth of the respondent, her age in years, month and year of marriage or age at marriage, and month and year of birth of each of her children as well as the age of living children. For children under 5 who are weighed and measured to assess nutritional status, day of birth was collected in the household questionnaire but was not connected with the birth history. Beginning with the DHS-7 questionnaires (most surveys with fieldwork in 2015/2016 and beyond), we asked the day of birth for all children listed in the birth history.

Why was day of birth added for children in DHS-7?

Adding day of birth permits calculating the age of children more accurately. Calculating age in months using just month and year of birth and month and year of interview meant that age in months could be off by one month in approximately half of all cases. For example, a child born February 2017 was considered a 3-month-old in May 2017. However, if the birth took place on February 25, 2017, and the interview was May 3, 2017, then the child is actually only two completed months old. Thus, if the day of birth is greater than the day of interview (roughly half of all cases), then the age would be over-estimated by one month.

Why make the change now?

Historically DHS surveys have not collected the day of birth of all children as the quality of reporting of dates of births and ages was simply not reliable enough, especially for older children or those who have died. The quality of date and age reporting for children has improved over time and now appears to be sufficiently reliable for use throughout the survey data.

How is the age calculation different in DHS-7?

Previously, child’s age was calculated by subtracting the month and year of birth from the month and year of interview to give age in months. In DHS-7, we introduced the calculation of age taking into account the day of birth and the day of interview. To do this, we introduced a new concept – the century day code (CDC).  DHS datasets now contain several new variables related to the century day codes.

For more details on the definition of the CDC and a list of the new variables, a complete description of changes made to existing age variables (e.g. age of child in years, age of child in months, and birth intervals), and programming notes for STATA and SPSS users, visit The DHS Program website.

How do these changes affect analysis?

In surveys that introduced the day of birth of the child, changes have been made in the analysis of the data in two main ways:

  1. The restrictions on the denominator for tables now all use the age variables based on the calculation to the day, rather than to the month as was previously done.
  2. All background age group variables used in analysis are now based on the revised ages. Previously, on average, because the calculation method only considered month and year and not day of birth, the age group of 0 months would have roughly half the number of cases of age group 1 month or other older single month age groups. With the new method, age group 0 months will have a roughly similar number of cases as other single month age groups.

These changes affect virtually all tables related to children, particularly to children under 5.

It is important to note that fertility rate and childhood mortality rate tables are not impacted as these tables exclude the month of interview from calculations and effectively use complete months in the calculations.

More precise calculation results in a shift in age

The diagrams below show the age of the child calculated using the old and new methods, given a particular month of interview and month of birth, giving examples here for interviews in January to June 2017, and births in December 2015 to June 2017. For any birth taking place on a day in the month on or before the day of interview there is no change in the calculation, but for any birth taking place on a day in the month after the day of interview the age of the child is now calculated as 1 month less than previously. For example, a child born in late April 2017 and included in an interview in early June 2017 (equivalent to a point in the bottom right corner of box “2” in the first row below, marked with a red star) was calculated as 2 months using the old method, but looking at the equivalent position in the second example, this child is calculated as age 1 month in the new calculation method.

Old age calculation method example:

New age calculation method example:

This shift in age in months affects roughly half of all children, but only has an effect on age in years for roughly 1/24 of children – those previously classified as 12 months old, but now classified as 11 months old, and similarly around ages 24 months, 36 months, etc.

While these changes will unlikely have a major impact on the interpretation of trends, they do mark a significant shift towards a more precise, accurate measure of children’s age.  Dataset users striving to replicate DHS tabulations need to adjust their logic to match DHS results using some of the new or modified variables to capture the more accurate measure of child age.

Download the full PDF here.

Questions?  After reviewing the full guidance document, please visit the DHS User Forum and post additional questions there for discussion.

© 2012 Xinshu She/Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatrics Fellow, Courtesy of Photoshare

Written by The DHS Program

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