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European Research Council Advanced Grant goes to James Vaupel for Work on Lifespan Inequalities

James Vaupel from the University of Southern Denmark will develop cutting edge research on old-age mortality, lifespan inequalities, and retirement.

By Jana Vobecká, , 3/31/2020

Despite the deadly threat of the new coronavirus, still people are enjoying longer and healthier lives today than in any previous generations. But not everybody lives a long life, and not everybody will survive to benefit from their pension. How unequal are we in our length of life? How will this inequality change in the future? What are the limits to human longevity? And what does all that mean for our pension systems?

James Vaupel, a top demographer based at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), will tackle these issues and more in a new project ´Inequalities in Lifespans before and after Retirement: Trailblazing Demographic Theory and Analysis´. He will establish a team of demographers and social scientists who will work towards novel contributions to the study of lifespan inequalities, limits to human life and its repercussion for pension systems. This makes the project both highly relevant for society and for advances in the field of formal demography, mathematical modelling and forecasting. To pursue his research, Vaupel received 2,5 million Euros for five years from the European Research Council.

The major innovation of Vaupel’s project is the inclusion of individual lifespan inequalities into the theory on mortality at older ages. Existing research focuses on averages and not on distributions for individuals. Based on individual lifespan inequalities, the proposed project has three major objectives:

1) Understanding the importance of lifespan inequalities for pension policies by analyzing inequalities in the lifespans of older individuals, not classified by groups (such as by education or socio-economic status) but studied as individuals,

2) Contribute to the debate about how long can humans live by testing the hypothesis that death rates are declining at older ages,

3) Develop a theory-driven novel forecasting model. This high-risk endeavor, should it work, would constitute a step change in how mortality is theorised, modelled and forecast.

Professor Vaupel stressed that this was not a grant merely to him but to SDU's Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics that will carry out the research and to SDU more generally. As Professor of Social Sciences, Health Sciences and Natural Sciences, Vaupel is helping to advance SDU´s goal to become more interdisciplinary, with research initiatives cutting across faculties.


The ERC Advanced Grants are Europe´s most prestigious and highly competitive research awards. Since 2007, they are given to well-established top researchers who are leaders in their field and allow them to pursue their ‘most daring research ideas’. This year a budget of 450 million Euros funded 185 research grants, out of which two are going to Denmark. The maximal granted amount is 2,5 million Euros (18,8 mio. DKK) for five years.


About James Vaupel

James Vaupel is Professor of Social Sciences, Health Sciences and Natural Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark. He is the Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock (since 2018 Director Emeritus), Founding director of the Max-Planck Odense Center on the Biodemography of Aging (2013 – 2017) and Founding director of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics at SDU.

James Vaupel studied mathematical statistics and received his PhD in public policy at Harvard University. After serving as a professor at Duke University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Southern Denmark, he became Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute of Demographic Research in 1996. James W. Vaupel is a leading scientist in the field of aging research and has been instrumental in developing and advancing the idea of the plasticity of longevity. He pioneered research on the heterogeneity of mortality risks, and on the deceleration of death rates at the highest ages.

Read more about the Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics here.

Read more about this year´s ERC advanced grants results here.

James Vaupel

James Vaupel is Professor of Social Sciences, Health Sciences and Natural Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark.

Read more about James Vaupel here.

Editing was completed: 31.03.2020