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A new interdisciplinary centre at Aarhus University will produce new knowledge about inequality and how to fight it. Elite researchers from both Aarhus BSS and Health are involved.

2021.03.19 | Thomas Sørensen

PIREAU is the name of AU’s new interdisciplinary research centre for inequality. Photo: Lars Kruse.

“Inequality is a major problem globally, especially since it’s often self-reinforcing. Economic inequality can lead to political inequality. Healthcare inequality can lead to economic inequality. And so on. It’s an incredibly important area, and I’m excited to start working on it.”

These are the words of Professor Carsten Jensen from the Department of Political Science about the upcoming research centre, which he will lead. 

The centre has been named PIREAU – an acronym of ‘Platform for Inequality Research at Aarhus University’. It has received a startup grant of DKK 10 mil. from the university’s strategic funds. In addition to that, the centre will receive funding from Aarhus BSS and Health, and it aspires to attract funds from the EU and private funds.

Inequality is a global threat

According to Carsten Jensen, increasing inequality is evident in a number of areas – from differences in financial living conditions to differences in health and life expectancy. And this inequality can threaten a society’s cohesiveness and stability: a challenge that has become both more visible and more serious during the Covid19-pandemic.

“Both here in Denmark and in other countries, we’ve seen that infection rates have been higher among people with low educational levels and people with a relatively low income, who might not have the possibility of working from home. At the same time, the economic consequences of the pandemic will most likely also have a greater negative effect on those who are already on the edge of the job market. This is how Covid will further heighten the social differences even in the most well-functioning societies such as Denmark,” explained Carsten Jensen. 

The key is interdisciplinary research

For senior hospital physician and professor Henrik Toft Sørensen from the Department of Clinical Medicine, it is precisely this interaction between the health-related and the social that makes it important to adopt a wide-ranging and lifelong research perspective:

“If you fall ill, there’s a bigger risk that you’ll also be affected economically or socially, which risks becoming a vicious cycle – even after the illness has been treated. Health and social factors are closely related, and it’s therefore very important to take an interdisciplinary approach if we really want to understand inequality better. PIREAU will give us a chance to do so. In combination with the unique resources we have in the Danish registry data about social and health-related conditions, we have a very good point of departure to make a difference –  from an international perspective as well.”

The strategy is put into effect

PIREAU will be established under the aegis of Aarhus University’s Strategy 2025, in which the university commits itself to delivering interdisciplinary research contributions to the development and welfare of society. 

“PIREAU is one of the concrete examples which shows that the strategy is an important touchstone for us – both in thought and action. Our researchers can make an enormous difference in society, and with this centre we are creating a good foundation for them to collaborate on producing new knowledge and new networks – and in the end contribute to putting an end to global inequality,” said Rector Brian Bech Nielsen, who stressed that PIREAU is operating with a long-term research horizon, which will provide sufficient time to develop a a research group with international impact.


Facts about PIREAU:

  • PIREAU consists of a core group of nine senior researchers from six departments at Health and Aarhus BSS. According to plan, the group will be joined by 10-20 other senior researchers, as well as about 20 PhD students and postdocs – possibly also from other faculties.
  • PIREAU will also prioritise projects that deal with the interplay between at least two types of inequality. The centre already has a number of projects lined up. For example, there are projects about technological development and democratic stability, about the sources of inequality in the health sector and about immigration, segregation and polarisation.
  • PIREAU has been approved by the Aarhus University Board and will initially be funded by DKK 10 million from the university’s strategic funds in the period 2022-2023. Health and Aarhus BSS are also investing their own funds. This funding will be supplemented by funding from the EU and private foundations to enable PIREAU to realise its ambitions.
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