Vaupel Honored for Contributions to Field of Demography

James W. Vaupel, research professor at the Sanford Institute and director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, was named the 2008 recipient of the Mindel C. Sheps Award for his contributions to the methodological foundations of demography. The Sheps award, given biennially for outstanding contributions to mathematical demography, was presented to Vaupel on April 18 in New Orleans by the Population Association of America and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The award is named for Dr. Mindel C. Sheps (1913-1973), who became an expert in statistics as well as demographic and biological aspects of fertility through her studies on the impact of social factors on public health.

Although demography brings together many disciplines and uses methodological approaches from the humanities, social sciences, medicine and biology, mathematical methodology is often the key to solving demographic problems. Among Vaupel’s pioneering contributions in the field is the introduction and application of “frailty models” to the field of population science. Frailty models bring new understanding to an individual’s or a group’s risk of death with age.

At Duke, Vaupel recently founded the Population Research Institute. Some of his work in the institute has been focused on the new field of evolutionary demography. Vaupel and colleagues propose to use complex mathematical functions to model the impact of various factors on the aging of different organisms.

As founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, a world-renowned population sciences research institution, Vaupel emphasized the development of mathematical demography. To understand the long-term development of populations or the life histories of individuals, Vaupel says, “a solid mathematical foundation is required.” To interpret the relationships among complex phenomena and developments, Vaupel will often advise demographers to go back to the basics of “births, deaths, and mathematics.”

The Population Association of America previously awarded Vaupel its Irene B. Taeuber Award for lifetime research achievement in 2001. Vaupel is now only the fourth demographer who has received both these awards.