How to contact us


2nd Floor, Old Building

London School of Economics and Political Science

Houghton Street

London WC2A 2AE

Main contact:
Professor Emily Grundy



ALPHA banner image

The LSE ALPHA research unit undertakes and promotes quantitative research on lifecourse, socio-economic and intergenerational influences on individual and population health using a range of large scale, predominantly longitudinal datasets.  

LSE ALPHA brings together researchers working on a number of projects, including three research programmes funded by the European Research Council. 


LSE ALPHA/KCL Global Ageing and Health Seminar Series

The LSE ALPHA research group has a joint seminar series with the Centre for Global Ageing at King’s "LSE ALPHA/KCL Global Ageing and Health Seminar".

Advance registration is not required. For further information, and to receive details of forthcoming events contact Cheryl Conner, email:

Previous events

The scope for social investment in developing long-term care

Speaker: Bernard Casey (London School of Economics)

Abstract: In late 2013, the European Commission launched its Social Investment Package (SIP).  This represented an attempt to kick-start the discussion about how to maintain and, indeed, expand social expenditure in a time of fiscal constraint. By emphasizing the role of social interventions as investments rather than consumption, the Commission was referring back to ideas articulated by the OECD in the mid-1990s in a publication, Beyond 2000: The New Social Policy Agenda, which emphasised the challenge of how to ensure that social expenditure enhanced social cohesion and active participation in society and the labour market. In its subsequent Communication on the modernisation of social protection systems  the Commission introduced the concept of “Social protection as a productive factor” where it addressed the question of the overall costs and benefits of social protection systems – again with respect to their impact on social cohesion, political stability and economic progress.

Much of the discussion of the contribution of social investment has focused upon early childhood interventions. Some has looked at what might be achieved by active labour market policies, and some at the potential of anti-poverty programmes.  However, the social investment concept is still relatively under-developed, under-conceptualised and under-researched.

The proposer was the Principal Investigator in the EU Horizon2020 research programme under the acronym SPRINT (see

Living longer but not necessarily healthier: Evidence from the UK’s population based surveys

Speaker: George Ploubidis

The 20th century witnessed significant improvements in health in most countries including substantial increases in survival to older ages and large reductions in late age mortality. The continuing rise in life expectancy is undoubtedly one of the great successes of public health, but has also raised the question of how healthily the gained years of life will be spent.  We use data from UK’s birth cohorts, other longitudinal studies and repeated cross sectional surveys to investigate competing theories of the joint progress of health and mortality. Sullivan’s method and regression based approaches were employed exploiting their different underlying assumptions to empirically test the compression, expansion and dynamic equilibrium of morbidity hypotheses. We found evidence for expansion of morbidity in the working age population, whereas a more complex pattern emerged in the older population, indicating a structural break between generations. The opportunities and challenges of employing longitudinal and life course studies to empirically test competing theories of ageing and practical implications for the study of potential mechanisms that underlie the joint progress of health and mortality will be discussed.

Does education improve mental health? Evidence from a compulsory schooling reform in Britain

Speaker:  Vahé Nafilyan

Abstract:  We examine the long-term effects of raising the minimum school leaving age on long-term mental health outcomes, exploiting a compulsory schooling reform in Britain in 1972, which raised the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16. Using a regression discontinuity design, we provide robust evidence that although the reform increased educational attainment and schooling it paradoxically increased the probability of a depression diagnosis and other mental health problems in adulthood, especially among women. Our results suggest that an additional year of schooling may have unanticipated and negative consequences on mental health for some individuals. We explore potential explanations including lower returns to schooling for some groups compared to competing opportunities (e.g., vocational education, training or employment) and their impact on early career and fertility decisions, which could lead to long-lasting detrimental consequences for mental health.  

Work-family histories and extended working lives across cohorts in the UK

Speaker:  Dr Giorgio Di Gessa

Productive ageing in familialistic welfare regimes:  the determinants of productive participation in Italy and South Korea

Speaker:  Ginevra Floridi

Abstract:Overwhelming concerns with prolonging working lives as a response to population ageing discount the fact that older people remain economically productive beyond paid work. This is especially true in familialistic welfare regimes, where families are assumed to be the main source of support, and women’s and older people’s contributions to informal service provision are substantial.

Broadening the definition of productivity to include work, volunteering, grandchild and adult care, this study investigates the individual and family circumstances determining participation in such activities in later life in Italy and South Korea. These ageing familialistic welfare regimes have been chosen because of differences in the relative economic and social security of older people, which have led them to assume family roles as ‘breadwinners’ in Italy and as ‘dependents’ in Korea.

The data consist in four waves each of two highly comparable surveys, the Italian sample of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the Korean Longitudinal Study of Aging (KLoSA). Longitudinal analyses using random-effects models suggest that older people’s productive contributions respond to familial need in both settings. Interesting differences between the two countries are found in the way socioeconomic status and personal circumstances shape productive roles, with Italians participating mainly out of opportunity, and Koreans participating largely out of necessity.

The study fills a gap in the longitudinal study of later-life activity determinants, and suggests interesting ways in which the relative position of older people in society may affect participation in familialistic settings. 

Is Life Expectancy Really Falling for the Least Educated?  Challenges in Measuring Trends in Health Disparities.
Professor Jennifer Dowd 

Recent public health studies made headlines reporting that life expectancy had declined over time for some subgroups in the U.S, particularly for White women with less than a high school education. These findings were understandably alarming, leading some to make analogies to the losses in life expectancy in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We propose an alternative explanation, whereby lower life expectancies and higher mortality rates emerge as an artefact of a phenomenon they call “lagged selection bias.” In this case, lagged selection bias arises from the fact that access to education expanded dramatically for Whites in the United States over the first half of the 20th century. Using historical data on education and mortality in the U.S., the paper shows how under reasonable assumptions about stable mortality differences by early life social class, life expectancy for those with less than a high school education can appear to “fall” even though in fact mortality has improved for every group.  Failure to acknowledge lagged selection bias can have important policy implications, since it can misattribute explanations for these trends to contemporary changes in policy or the economy when the trends are actually due to changing social dynamics around entry into education decades prior.

What is Population Ageing and what drives it?
Speaker:  Professor Mike Murphy
For many countries, the major demographic concern is population ageing, not growth. Population structures and population aging are determined solely by the population’s history of fertility, mortality and migration. There is a pressing need to understand the underlying demographic determinants since policies to influence population ageing by stimulating both fertility and immigration have been advocated. Primacy has usually been given to fertility decline, based on stable population models and increasingly on use of population projections. However, Samuel Preston and co-authors have argued that improvements in cohort survivorship were the most important factor in high income countries and that mortality and fertility declines had similar impacts in low income ones. We discuss the basis of these estimates and potential explanations for apparently contradictory findings that include: the index of ageing differs; results to date are presented for narrow time periods that may be atypical; and whether these two approaches actually measure the same underlying concept. We present long-run analyses of the relative contribution of cohort births, mortality and net migration to population ageing in two European countries using the method of Preston et. al., England & Wales and Sweden. We establish the conditions under which valid long-term model estimates may be made and compare these findings with the main alternative approach that compares population projections with fixed and varying rates of fertility and mortality.

The revolution of adult longevity
Speaker: Professor Jean-Marie Robine (INSERM & EPHE, Paris and Montpellier)
This seminar discussed the current adult longevity revolution. The number of centenarians is doubling on average every ten years in developed countries, introducing a “fourth age group” and fundamentally changing the age distribution of OECD populations. What should we assume in our models for future life expectancy? Are there limits to growing older and if so where would they be? Jean-Marie Robine discussed the consequences and the dynamics of the emergence of new age groups and how this will affect societies which have traditionally been organized in three age groups (young people, working age people and the elderly people). What does ageing well mean in this context? Policy makers and researchers need to consider that the ageing process differs between men and women, between socio-economic groups and by other individual characteristics. Another challenge is to find ways to ensure that longer lives are not increasingly spent in bad health and disability. The seminar also explored what a society based on four age groups could look like. 


Costs and Gains to Postponement: How Changes in the Age of Parenthood Influence the Health and Well-being of Children, the Parents, and Populations

Principal Investigator: Professor Mikko Myrskylä, Department of Social Policy
Research staff: Dr Alice Goisis, Kieron Barclay, Dr Kai Willfuehr

Advanced maternal and paternal ages are associated with a range of negative outcomes for the offspring, and have been estimated to have population-level health effects comparable to those of obesity. We analyse the health and well-being consequences of parental age at birth on both adult offspring and the parents themselves, focusing on three unanswered questions that illustrate both the costs and gains of postponement. Project A asks whether the association between parental age and offspring outcomes is causal. Existing literature overlooks important confounders, yet the reason to care about the association is its potential causality. We analyse large data sets from Europe and the U.S. with innovative methods that allow controlling for unobserved parental characteristics to test the causality of the advanced parental age-offspring outcomes association, and estimate the population-level health impact of fertility postponement using the new causal estimates. Project B analyses the modifying effect of the environment in the parental age-offspring health association. We hypothesize that since health improves over cohorts, postponement of parenthood–which means that the child is born to a later cohort–could improve offspring outcomes. This innovative hypothesis is controversial and has not been tested before. We also analyse how the adverse young parental age effect depends on the macro-level socioeconomic factors. Project C focuses on the implications of postponement of parenthood on parental well-being. Prior work on the timing effects of fertility on the parents has focused on career repercussions. We consider a yet unanalysed but important factor for child outcomes and parental health, the subjective well-being of the parents, and how this subjective well-being responds differentially to parenthood at different ages



Family life courses, intergenerational exchanges and
health and well-being in later life


For more information, please visit the FAMHEALTH website


Principal Investigator: Professor Emily Grundy, Department of Social Policy.
Research staff: Dr Katy Keenan.
Collaborators: Prof Oystein Kravdal (University of Oslo); Dr George Ploubidis (Institute of Education).


The overall aim of this research programme is to uncover how family life courses influence health and well-being in later adulthood, whether family related strengths or disadvantages relevant to health offset or compound socio-economic sources of disadvantage, and the extent to which these associations are influenced by societal factors. An important element will be to consider the role of intergenerational influences, including support flows. The geographical focus will be on Europe and the methodological focus on the advanced quantitative analysis of large scale longitudinal data sets. These data sets, chosen for their complementary strengths, will include both country specific and cross national sources. Three major interlinked strands of work will be undertaken. These will focus on 1) Impacts of parenting and partnership histories on health and mortality in mid and later life. 2) Intergenerational support exchanges: demographic, cultural and policy influences and effects on health of both providers and receivers. 3) An overarching theme to be addressed in the above strands and consolidated in the third is how investments in family and social networks are related to socio-economic disparities in later life health and mortality. The programme is will bring together perspectives from a range of disciplines to address issues of great relevance to current policy challenges in Europe. It is challenging because of the problem of dealing with issues of health selection and possible bias arising from various kinds of missing data which will require methodological care and innovation. Results will contribute to the development of theory, the development of methods and provide substantive knowledge relevant to the health and well-being of older Europeans.



Economic Cycles, Employment and Health: Disentangling Causal Pathways in a Cross-National Study

Principal Investigator: Dr Mauricio Avendano, LSE Health, Department of Social Policy.

Research in economics suggests that business cycles are associated with population health: Physical health deteriorates during economic expansions and improves during recessions. At odds with these findings, research in epidemiology suggests that in the long-run, individual unemployment and job insecurity are associated with poor health and higher mortality. Studies on the impact of economic cycles have been hampered by the lack of individual panel data to unravel causal mechanisms. This project aims to advancing understanding by examining the short-term and long-term effects of historical economic fluctuations on individual health. The project expands previous research by exploring potential mechanisms, identifying heterogeneous effects across individuals, and comparing countries with distinct welfare policies and institutions. The research approach is based on a unique linkage of historical data on macroeconomic cycles with (a) detailed life history event and panel micro-data on employment and health for 18 countries recently collected in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), the English Longitudinal study of Ageing (ELSA) and the US Health and Retirement Survey (HRS); (b) mortality registry data individually linked to occupational histories from national census for entire populations in five European countries in the period 1960-2005; (c) US survey-mortality linked data from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID). First, the project examines short-term effects of economic cycles on health in fixed effect models. Second, it assesses long-term effects of economic cycles on health using duration and instrumental variable models; exploring potential mechanisms; assessing effect heterogeneity; and examining the role of policies and institutions. The project integrates insights and methodologies from epidemiology and economics, elucidating the pathways through which economic fluctuations influence health in societies with different institutions



Major depressive disorder, dementia, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse affect a substantial part of the European older population. Over 70% of Europeans reside in cities, and this percentage will increase in the next decades. Urbanization and ageing have enormous implications for public mental health. Cities pose major challenges for older citizens, but also offer opportunities for the design of policies, clinical and public health interventions that promote mental health. The overall aim of the MINDMAP project is to identify the opportunities offered by the urban environment for the promotion of mental wellbeing and cognitive function of older individuals in Europe. The project will advance understanding by bringing together longitudinal studies across cities in Europe, the US and Canada to unravel the causal pathways and multi-level interactions between the urban environment and the social, behavioural, psychosocial and biological determinants of mental health and cognitive function in older adults. Specifically, the project will (a) assess the impact of the urban environment on the mental wellbeing and disorders associated with ageing, and estimate the extent to which exposure to specific urban environmental factors and policies explain differences in ageing-related mental and cognitive disorders both within as well as between European cities, (b) assess the causal pathways and interactions between the urban environment and the individual determinants of mental health and cognitive ageing in older adults, (c) use agent-based modelling to simulate the effect of urban environmental, prevention and care policies on the trajectories of mental health and cognitive ageing across cities in Europe. Knowledge will significantly contribute to futureproof preventive strategies in urban settings favouring the mental dimension of healthy ageing, the reduction of the negative impact of mental disorders on co-morbidities, and maintaining cognitive ability in old age.