The Project

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. 

Preliminary research, mostly on Denmark but also some on Sweden, France, and Japan, 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.

James Vaupel

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.