MaxHel Center for Social Inequalities in Population Health

The Max Planck – University of Helsinki Center for Social Inequalities in Population Health (MaxHel Center) is an international research center that aims to uncover processes that generate social inequalities in health and mortality.
About the Center

The MaxHel Center was founded in July 2023 as an international cooperation between the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) and the Population Research Unit (PRU) of the University of Helsinki. One of seventeen Max Planck Centers worldwide, the MaxHel Center is jointly headed by Professors Pekka Martikainen and Mikko Myrskylä and consists of a team of researchers based in Rostock, Germany and Helsinki, Finland.

In virtually all societies, people in disadvantaged social positions have a higher risk of health problems and live shorter lives than those in less disadvantaged positions. These differences are commonly referred to as health inequalities and they can be observed within and between countries. Research at the MaxHel Center is focused on understanding what causes health inequalities, and how and why they change over time and place. This knowledge will be vital for our ability to successfully reduce health inequalities and improve population health.


The Center’s research is divided into four main themes that approach the causes of health inequalities from different perspectives:

1. Family

We assess how family characteristics contribute to the development of health inequalities, within and across generations, and how the inequalities change over time.

2. Genetic factors

We investigate how genetics influence health inequalities in different family and social contexts.

3. Comparisons

We conduct international comparative research on how institutional, economic, social, and cultural contextual characteristics can reduce or increase health inequalities.

4. Methods

We draw from multiple scientific disciplines to advance causal methods for the analysis of health inequalities using exceptionally detailed population-representative data.


The Center’s research uses a unique combination of longitudinal register-based and genetically informed data, along with information on major policy reforms and rapid economic changes. These data on millions of individuals allow us to study how family background characteristics, genetic factors, and individual social characteristics work together to produce health inequalities.


The MaxHel Center is headed by Professors Pekka Martikainen and Mikko Myrskylä.

Pekka Martikainen is Director of the Population Research Unit (PRU) at the University of Helsinki, and Professor of Demography. He holds a PhD in Population Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Current research interests include changes and causes of socioeconomic differences in cause-specific mortality, various issues relating to ageing populations, and he has been involved in cross-national comparisons of health inequalities.
+358 294 123 889

Mikko Myrskylä is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) and Professor of Social Data Science at the University of Helsinki. Prof. Myrskylä holds PhDs in Demography (University of Pennsylvania) and Statistics (University of Helsinki). His work focuses on population health, fertility dynamics, and demographic forecasting, and leverages large linked population registers, causal inference approaches, and formal demography.
+49 381 2081-118


Researchers based at the Population Research Unit (PRU) of the University of Helsinki:

Ariel Abeldano Zuniga, Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski, Elina Einiö, Elina Hiltunen, Hanna Remes, Lara Bister, Lauren Bishop, Liina Junna, Luca Dei Bardi, Minna Ylinen, Hannu Lahtinen, Heta Moustgaard, Isa Yang, Joonas Pitkänen, Juha Luukkonen, Kaarina Korhonen, Kelsey Wright, Lasse Tarkiainen, Lotta Volotinen, Luca Dei Bardi, Margherita Moretti, Maria Guzman Castillo, Miika Mäki, Moritz Oberndorfer, Niina Metsä-Simola, Riina Peltonen, Sanna Kailaheimo-Lönnqvist, Sanni Variskallio, Shubhankar Sharma, Sini Laakso, Ulla Suulamo, Xu Zong and Ziwei Rao.

Researchers based at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR):

Alyson van Raalte, Aapo Hiilamo, Angelo Lorenti, Bettina Hünteler, Christian Dudel, Domantas Jasilionis, Donata Stonkute, Emma Zai, Henrik-Alexander Schubert, Jonas Schöley, Kathrin McCann, Marcus Ebeling, Maria Gültzow, Megan Evans, Mine Kühn, Neil Mehta, Peng Li, Philipp Dierker, Ricarda Duerst, Sanny Boy Afable and Silvia Loi.


The center is funded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, the Max Planck Society, the University of Helsinki, and the Cities of Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo.

Where we are

Population Research Unit (PRU) of the University of Helsinki
Unioninkatu 33
00170 Helsinki

Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR)
Konrad-Zuse-Straße 1
18057 Rostock