Project Details


How unequal are lifespans at older ages? How unequal will they be in the future? The length of life is often summarized by life expectancy, but the mean does not capture the spread. Distributions of lifespans need to be analyzed and forecast. Given the relevance of such research—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 proposed here has three audacious ambitions and bold theoretical thrusts: (1) broaden discourse and conceptually shift thinking about retirement to include individual lifespan inequalities, (2) developing the demographic theory of old-age mortality, test the hypothesis that substantial progress is being made in cutting death rates after age 90, and (3) develop an innovative theory-based forecasting method based on 8 strong regularities of mortality trajectories at older ages that goes well beyond the state of the art to predict lifespan distributions (and inequalities)—and to quantify the uncertainties in these predictions. Preliminary research, mostly on Denmark but also some on Sweden, France and Japan, to prepare this application produced findings that surprised me. The probability of dying after age 50 but before retirement age was higher than I suspected. The likely growth in the number of people above age 90 astonished me. Rates of improvement in mortality after age 100 in France and Japan were much greater than published estimates for Denmark or Sweden. Current forecasting methods appear inadequate to capture likely reductions in death rates at the ages when most people die. These preliminary findings suggest that the daring theory-based, theory-building program of analysis of 40+ countries/regions proposed here will open new perspectives for research on lifespans at older ages as well as providing novel, highly-relevant input to discussions of the challenges of raising retirement ages.

The project 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).
Effective start/end date01/01/202031/12/2025


  • Horizon 2020
  • ERC Advanced Grant