The first concern of this work is the development of approximations to the distributions of crude mortality rates, age-specific mortality rates, age-standardized rates, standardized mortality ratios, and the like for the case of a closed population or period study. It is found that assuming Poisson birthtimes and independent lifetimes implies that the number of deaths and the corresponding midyear population have a bivariate Poisson distribution. The Lexis diagram is seen to make direct use of the result. It is suggested that in a variety of cases, it will be satisfactory to approximate the distribution of the number of deaths given the population size, by a Poisson with mean proportional to the population size. It is further suggested that situations in which explanatory variables are present may be modelled via a doubly stochastic Poisson distribution for the number of deaths, with mean proportional to the population size and an exponential function of a linear combination of the explanatories. Such a model is fit to mortality data for Canadian females classified by age and year. A dynamic variant of the model is further fit to the time series of total female deaths alone by year. The models with extra-Poisson variation are found to lead to substantially improved fits.