Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) “More Years, Better Lives – The Potential and Challenges of Demographic Change”

Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) “More Years, Better Lives – The Potential and Challenges of Demographic Change”

Joint Programming is a new approach to foster collaboration and coordination in R&D in Europe. It is a member-states driven activity. The Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) “More Years, Better Lives – The Potential and Challenges of Demographic Change” seeks to enhance coordination and collaboration between European and national research programmes related to demographic change.

Areas affected by demographic change cover a wide range of research fields and policy topics ranging from health to social welfare, education & learning, work & productivity to housing, urban & rural development and mobility. The JPI “More Years, Better Lives” therefore follows a transnational, multi-disciplinary approach bringing together different research programmes and researchers from various disciplines in order to provide solutions for the upcoming challenges and make use of the potential of societal change in Europe.

Marcel Leppée from our Research and Teaching Department is a coordinator of Task 4.3 “SRA (Strategic Research Agenda) - oriented data elaboration”, a coordination and support action for the Joint Programming Initiative “More Years, Better Lives” (, the Institut national d'études démographiques (Ined,, VDI/VDE-IT ( and Population Europe, the network of Europe’s leading demographic research centres (

Joint Programming Initiative “More Years, Better Lives” - High Level Data Workshop, January 2016, Brussels

Since December 2008, Research Ministers of the European Union recognised the need for a new and strategic approach in coordinating European research activities to address societal challenges of common interest on a European or even global scale. The Council welcomed the new approach of Joint Programming proposed by the European Commission in mid-2008 and encouraged Member States to make use of it. 

The aim of Joint Programming is to make better use of Europe’s limited R&D funds through enhanced coordination and cooperation of research programmes in strategic areas. At the beginning of 2010, a group of member states took up this approach and presented to the Joint Programming Group (GPC) of the ERAC (European Research Area Committee) a proposal for a new Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) under the title “More Years, Better Lives – the Potentials and Challenges of Demographic Change”. As the work proceeded, other states joined the JPI, with a total of 14 European countries and Canada. 

J-AGE, the Coordination Action for the early implementation of the JPI-MYBL, supported and fostered the overall management of the project, the development of the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) and its implementation through joint activities between Member States, the mapping of relevant national programmes and a complementary foresight activity. Among other activities, the JPI-MYBL initiated a Data Mapping Project to map the range of data sources on ageing at the European and national levels on 10 SRA topic. The data project aimed to inform the calls and research proposals by identifying relevant sources as well as existing gaps. 

Since 2015, J-AGEII followed as Coordination Action for the implementation and alignment activities of the JPI-MYBL. One of its objectives is the elaboration of an updated SRA. Based on the information drawn from the Data Mapping Project and taking into account the priorities set in the revised SRA, 10 “Thematic Data Profiles” are being complied, one for each SRA priority. The 10 Thematic Data Profiles will be part of a final report, which will provide a guide for future calls. The report will be published in the JPI-website. 

The aim of this high-level expert workshop is to invite leading European experts to discuss, validate and enrich the findings reported in the draft thematic data profiles. 10 experts will be invited to make a presentation for each thematic profile to bring their view on the data, discuss what is missing and research and data objectives in the short-medium-long term. The country experts who contributed to the Data Mapping Project, together with experts representing data infrastructures and large surveys (Eurostat, OECD, GGP, SHARE, ESS, Gesis, etc.) will also be invited to lively contribute to the discussion. The inputs of the experts participating in this workshop are paramount to the final report.

According to the Joint Programming Initiative “More Years, Better Lives” Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), the topic “Quality of life, wellbeing and health” aims to “develop agreed measures; to explore how they vary between individuals and groups over the life course; and evaluate how best to use them to evaluate the impact of policies and practices.” Therefore, it aims to inform policies and practices that will ensure the best possible quality of life for all citizens of Europe, in the context of demographic change. However, although there has been a growing amount of research into quality of life and wellbeing in recent years, there is still little agreement about how to define these topics and how best to measure them. As defined by the World Health Organization, "health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Health status can also be seen as a reflection of the living conditions of the population including lifestyle-related risk factors (e.g. smoking or alcohol consumption), the effect of contextual factors like environmental conditions, as well as changes across the life course. Thus, searching for adequate data given the complexity of the topic goes beyond objective measures of morbidity and self-perceived health.

As is well known, we are living longer and reaching older ages in better heath. According to OECD/European Union (2014) estimates, life expectancy at birth in the Member States has increased by more than five years on average since 1990, although the gap between those countries with the highest and lowest life expectancies remains around eight years. This is a result of the reductions in mortality rates – especially at older ages – due to investment in medical advancements and public health efforts, the improvement in living conditions in Europe and in Europeans’ access to services. The implications and challenges of the changes in the lifespan are visible not only at the individual but also at the societal level. This can be seen in the pension systems, access to health and care – particularly at older ages – and longer working lives. However, this does not only relate to potential costs but also to the potential gains through the additional healthy years that people can spend engaged in working life and contributing to society.

Recognising the scale and importance of demographic change, many European countries are seeking better evidence to inform policymaking. In 2010 nine of them came together to explore the potential for collaborative and comparative research, using the EU framework for Joint Programming Initiatives (JPI). The work was supported by the European Commission as a Coor-dination Action of the 7th Framework Programme, through the J-AGE consortium of nine Member States. 

This Strategic Research Agenda is one outcome of this work, developed iteratively by five scientific working groups, a Scientific Advisory Board and a Societal Advisory Board. It seeks to inform policy and to explore what it means to be born into, grow up in, and grow older in, a world where both five generation families and single person households are becoming increasingly common and where extending lifespan is challenging traditional notions of social and economic sustainability. Importantly it also recognises the diversity of individual experience: while many people are living beyond the age of 90, some barely survive beyond retirement. 

Demographic change is not just about ageing: factors like fertility rates, rural depopulation, and migration are all significant issues. Furthermore, some of the problems, especially in health and social care, which arise in later life could be prevented by interventions earlier in the lifecourse. Since ageing is the largest of the changes, it is the principal focus of our work, but our research agenda also touches on the wider issues. 

The Agenda has a particular focus on the kinds of research which can inform policy. The term is sometimes associated with the short term positions of particular political parties or governments. Here we take a broader view of policy: as the whole complex network of objectives set, at all levels, by governments and by commercial and third sector organisations. We are concerned with the major demographic issues facing some or all of these agencies. The questions we have addressed will remain important in the long term, whatever specific responses individual agencies and governments may adopt from time to time.

How to ensure the best possible quality of life for all people, throughout their lives (including the final stages), recognising the diversity of individual circum¬stances and aspirations, and the role of social relationships in fostering individual wellbeing. 

This is arguably the overarching objective which all Governments seek to achieve. We need to better understand what quality of life means for different people at different life stages and to use that knowledge to evaluate the impact of policies in all the other domains. 

Marcel Leppée, participant of the workshop