The Demography of Sustainable Human Wellbeing

This project aims to develop new indicators for long-term human wellbeing that include feedbacks from environmental and other changes. It is funded through an ERC Advanced Grant awarded to Wolfgang Lutz.

Senior couple in Finland © Aleksandra Suzi | shutterstock

Senior couple in Finland © Aleksandra Suzi | shutterstock

This new project will apply two distinctly demographic concepts to address questions that go far beyond demography. It will study the indicators of and the conditions for sustainable human wellbeing. The wellbeing indicators proposed here will be based on life table methods and the recently operationalized concept of Demographic Metabolism – modelling social change through the replacement of generations – will be used to get a quantitative analytical handle on the temporal dynamics of improving human wellbeing.

The project will theoretically develop, empirically estimate, test and forecast indicators of human wellbeing that are based on life table methods and hence reflect the basic – but often overlooked fact – that being alive is a necessary prerequisite for enjoying any quality of life. But since mere survival is not sufficient as an ultimate goal for most people the person years lived at each age will be weighted with four different dimensions of empowerment: health, literacy, happiness and being out of poverty. These are four dimensions of an indicator tentatively called ELY (Empowered Life Years). ELY will also serve as the explanandum of a global level econometric estimation of the determinants of wellbeing considering human, manufactured and natural capitals as well as knowledge and institutions.

The global level analysis is complemented by a set of strategically chosen in-depth systems-analytical case studies in Namibia/Western Cape, Nepal, Costa Rica and historical Finland modelling the population-development-environment (PDE) interactions including feed-backs e.g. from environmental degradation to wellbeing and taking the trends of ELY in different sub-populations as sustainability criteria. They will also include stake holder involvement and science-policy interactions.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 741105. Project Name: The Demography of Sustainable Human Wellbeing, EmpoweredLifeYears.

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Last edited: 18 July 2019


Wolfgang Lutz

Program Director

World Population

T +43(0) 2236 807 294


01.11.2017 - 31.10.2022


Lutz W (2017). Studying the Demography of Sustainable Human Wellbeing: Empowered Life Years (ELY) as Sustainability Criterion. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-17-009

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