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Unequal Lifespans — Inequalities in Lifespans Before and After Retirement: Trailblazing Demographic Theory and Analysis

How unequal are lifespans at older ages? How unequal will they be in the future?

Given the relevance of these questions—for assessing pension reforms and other social and health policies—it is remarkable how little demographic modeling has been devoted to inequalities at older ages in individual lifespans.

The research project is organized into three ambitions that aim to:

  1. broaden discourse and conceptually shift thinking about retirement to include individual lifespan inequalities,
  2. establish a demographic theory of old-age mortality and test the hypothesis that progress is being made in cutting death rates after age 90, and
  3. develop a forecasting method to predict lifespan distributions (and inequalities) based on strong regularities of mortality trajectories at older ages, and to quantify the uncertainties in these predictions.

Current forecasting methods appear inadequate for capturing likely reductions in death rates at ages when most people die. Preliminary findings suggest that this project will reveal new perspectives on lifespans at older ages as well as provide novel input for discussions of the challenges of raising retirement ages.

Note: The project was conceived and led by James W. Vaupel. After his sudden death, as ERC grants are an ad-person funding scheme, we are forced to terminate the research grant prematurely on June 30, 2023. Trifon I. Missov acts as a project leader in the phasing-out period.

The project ‘Inequalities in Lifespans before and after Retirement: Trailblazing Demographic Theory and Analysis – Unequal Lifespans’ has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 884328 – Unequal Lifespans).

James W. Vaupel

Principal investigator

Learn more

Project website


Last Updated 28.06.2023