The aim of MORTAL is to challenge current non-empirical narratives and produce fundamentally new knowledge of mechanisms underlying mortality trends. The health and longevity of a population is a key barometer of overall welfare, reflecting the cumulative effects of the broader social, economic, and environmental conditions in which people live. Recently, demographic alarm bells have sounded as life expectancy has fallen in the U.S. and mortality improvements in the UK and other parts of Europe have stalled. Whether these trends are due to short term causes such as “deaths of despair” due to drugs, alcohol and suicide or longer-term changes in risk factors such as obesity is not yet known, and some work in this area has lacked empirical rigour. For the first time, MORTAL will combine theory and data across multiple disciplines (biology, epidemiology, sociology, economics, genetics) with demographic theory on the challenging three-dimensional age-period-cohort space in which mortality trends emerge to understand the underlying drivers of population mortality. I propose to (1) integrate macro and micro level data sources to document changes in social and biological risk factors across cohorts, time and place (2) utilize innovative measures of biological risk (epigenetics, microbiome) to understand how life experiences and exposures across cohorts influence trajectories of health and ageing (3) test important selection dynamics across cohorts and their implications for mortality trends including selection into education and selective migration (4) develop a new interdisciplinary conceptual model and simulations of how cohort changes in social and biological risk may influence observed mortality trends going forward. Building a model from cells to society and across age, period, and cohort, MORTAL will integrate knowledge across disparate disciplines to answer the vital question: as populations, how long do we live, and why?
Fields of science
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