Research Group

Lifespan Inequalities

At a Glance Projects Publications Team


Monitoring Lifespan Inequality

Alyson van Raalte, Rosie Seaman, Marília R. Nepomuceno, Viorela Diaconu, Enrique Acosta, Jiaxin Shi, Jose Manuel Aburto Flores (MPIDR / University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark); in Collaboration with Pekka Martikainen (University of Helsinki, Finland), Andreas Höhn, Timothy Riffe (both: MPIDR), Isaac Sasson (Tel Aviv University, Israel), Johan Mackenbach, Wilma Nusselder, José Rubio Valverde (all: Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands), Alastair Leyland, Frank Popham (both: University of Glasgow, United Kingdom), Vladimir Canudas Romo, Qi Cui (both: Australian National University, Canberra, Australia), Cassio Turra (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil), Hal Caswell (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Detailed Description

Typically, mortality is monitored by metrics of average population-level outcomes, for instance life expectancy at birth or age-standardized death rates. Far less explored are population-level differences in variation in age at death, also known as lifespan inequality, and these can be substantial.

This matters for individuals. Lifespan inequality measures the uncertainty in the timing of death. When ages at death are highly spread out, the life course is more difficult to plan. Studies have shown that individuals are highly risk averse and would forfeit the chance at a higher average age at death if they could reduce the uncertainty of experiencing premature mortality. Lifespan inequality is also important for society. The variation in age at death within subnational groups is an indication of the heterogeneity of the group’s overall health. Public investments in training and education increase in value when individuals survive through working ages.

The aim of this project is to explore the added value of monitoring health and mortality, using a metric of variation. Our objectives are:

  1. To track and forecast the relationship between life expectancy and lifespan inequality in national populations.
  2. To determine the ages and causes of death that drive outlying age patterns of mortality.
  3. To analyze the development of lifespan inequality by socioeconomic group.
  4. To investigate whether patterns of lifespan inequality are similar in period and cohort perspectives.
  5. To extend these concepts to variation in the onset of health deterioration.

We tackle these questions using a combination of data sources: the Human Mortality Database for high-quality national data on period and cohort mortality; Finnish register data for detailed aggregate mortality data by socioeconomic status, covering a long time period starting in 1971; census-linked aggregate mortality data by level of completed education for several European countries or regions collected by the European Commission-funded LIFEPATH project (Grant # 633666); Danish register data containing data on hospitalizations for the Danish population; and vital statistics data from the United States, Canada, and France.

Lifespan inequality is measured using established absolute and relative measures of variation or inequality including the standard deviation, the coefficient of variation, the Gini coefficient, the life disparity, and the interquartile range, based on variation in the life table age-at-death distribution.

This project is funded by a starting grant from the European Research Council (Grant # 716323).

Research Keywords:

Ageing, Mortality and Longevity, Projections and Forecasting

Region keywords:

OECD countries


Bergeron Boucher, M.-P.; Aburto, J. M.; van Raalte, A. A.:
BMJ Global Health. forthcoming. (2020)    
Riffe, T.; Nepomuceno, M. R.; Basellini, U.:
In: Encyclopedia of gerontology and population aging. Cham: Springer International Publishing. forthcoming. (2020)
Seaman, R. J.; Höhn, A.; Lindahl-Jacobsen, R.; Martikainen, P.; van Raalte, A. A.; Christensen, K.:
European Journal of Epidemiology 35:5, 381–388. (2020)    
van Raalte, A. A.; Klüsener, S.; Oksuzyan, A.; Grigoriev, P.:
International Journal of Epidemiology 49:2, 486–496. (2020)    
van Raalte, A. A.; Nepomuceno, M. R.:
In: International handbook of health expectancies, 107–122. Cham: Springer. (2020)
Aburto, J. M.; Alvarez Martinez, J. A.; Villavicencio, F.; Vaupel, J. W.:
Demographic Research 41:4, 83–102. (2019)    
Aburto, J. M.; Beltrán-Sánchez, H.:
American Journal of Public Health 109:3, 483–489. (2019)    
García, J.; Aburto, J. M.:
International Journal of Epidemiology 48:5, 1593–1601. (2019)    
Nepomuceno, M. R.; Canudas-Romo, V.:
Population: English Edition 74:3, 281–302. (2019)
Nepomuceno, M. R.; Turra, C. M.:
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2019-015. (2019)    
Seaman, R. J.; Riffe, T.; Caswell, H.:
BMJ Open 9:3, e024952–e024952. (2019)    
Seaman, R. J.; Riffe, T.; Leyland, A. H.; Popham , F.; van Raalte, A. A.:
Social Science and Medicine 230, 147–157. (2019)    
van Raalte, A. A.; Seaman, R. J.:
In: Encyclopedia of biomedical gerontology, 239–246. San Diego: Academic Press. (2019)
Aburto, J. M.; van Raalte, A. A.:
Demography 55:6, 2071–2096. (2018)    
Aburto, J. M.; Wensink, M. J.; van Raalte, A. A.; Lindahl-Jacobsen, R.:
BMC Public Health 18:831, 1–9. (2018)    
van Raalte, A. A.:
In: Jahrbuch der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft 2018. München: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e.V. (2018)    
van Raalte, A. A.; Sasson, I.; Martikainen, P.:
Science 362:6418, 1002–1004. (2018)    
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.