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Science funding

SDU Professor receives much-coveted EU grant

A new research project will shed light on inequalities in lifespans and the consequences that this may have on pension systems. Professor James Vaupel will lead the project, which is supported by the European Research Council (ERC).

By Marlene Jørgensen, , 4/1/2020

People are living longer and healthier. But is there a limit to how long we humans can live? And how will inequalities in lifespans develop?

Professor James Vaupel has just received a prestigious grant of DKK 18.6 million from the European Research Council to examine this.

The Council supports leading researchers who wish to pursue original and ground-breaking research ideas over a five-year period.

What do inequalities in lifespans mean for pensions?

James Vaupel is a Professor at SDU’s Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics (CPop), which is affiliated with four or the university’s five faculties: Business and Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Science and Humanities respectively.

In his new project, the SDU Professor will examine divergence in human lifespans and how this will develop in the future. As well as the consequences that this may have on pension systems in the world’s developed countries in this context.

This fits well with an ongoing project, where James Vaupel and colleagues from CPop are studying, how declines in mortality will impact Danish retirement policy. The project is supported by the Rockwool Foundation and the title is ”Challenges to Implementation of Indexation of the Pension Age in Denmark”.

Will strengthen high quality research

James Vaupel says about the EU grant:

- It is a great opportunity to strengthen SDU’s research in the fields of lifespans and pensions and to expand it to even more countries – and thus bring more knowledge to society, he says and adds:

- We are very pleased with the grant, and I would like to thank Vice-Chancellor Henrik Dam and the Deans Jens Ringsmose, Ole Skøtt and Marianne Holmer for their great support.

James Vaupel will be tasked with assembling a team of researchers around the project for which the key word will be interdisciplinary, as the project will be implemented in collaboration with researchers who have a background in demography and social sciences.

Three goals pursued

The project consists of three overall goals:

The ambition is to analyse inequalities in the individual lifespans of older people at individual level rather than categorising it by, e.g. education or socio-economic status that we typically see today. This will create a greater understanding of divergence in lifespans and a new approach to pension policies.

The project will also test the hypothesis that mortality among the elderly is declining, thus contributing to the debate about how long people can live.

Finally, the researchers hope to develop a new theoretical forecasting model for how mortality is theorised, modelled and predicted.

The title of the project is “Inequalities in Lifespans before and after Retirement: Trailblazing Demographic Theory and Analysis”.

The European Research Council

  • The Council is responsible for promoting research of the highest quality
  • The Council awards, i.a., ERC Advanced Grants, which are given to leading and established researchers for ground-breaking high-risk research
  • It is possible for a project to receive EUR 2.5 million for a five-year period
  • This time round, the Council has allocated EUR 450 million - approx. DKK 3.3 billion - between 185 researchers across the EU, of which two grants have been awarded to Danish research projects: one at SDU and one at DTU.
  • When the ERC Starting Grants were presented in September 2019, SDU also received a grant for the project Transforming Norms Research through Practices: Weaponised Artificial Intelligence, Norms, and Order, which political scientist Ingvild Bode from the Department of Political Science and Public Management will be responsible for.
Meet the researcher

Professor James Vaupel is an internationally leading scientist in the fields of ageing and demography research. His research has provided a unique contribution to the understanding that age and long lifespans are not static but plastic. James Vaupel is the founder of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. He also founded the Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics at SDU, where he continues to work on a daily basis.


Editing was completed: 01.04.2020