Short Lives: The Impact of Parental Death on Early-Life Mortality and Height in the Netherlands, 1850-1940

Björn Quanjer, Ingrid K. van Dijk, Matthias Rosenbaum-Feldbrügge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigate how experiencing parental death in infancy, childhood, or adolescence affected individuals' health using two distinct measures: mortality before age 20 and young adult height. Using two complementary indicators of health enables us to gain more insights into processes of selection and the scarring of health. Employing nationally representative data for the Netherlands for the 1850-1940 period, we analyze the survival of roughly 36,000 boys and girls using Cox proportional hazard models, and the stature of more than 4,000 young adult men using linear regression models. Results show that losing a parent-particularly a mother-at an early age (0-1 or 1-5) was related to a strongly increased risk of mortality. We find no evidence that losing a parent at these ages affected stature in young adulthood. For boys, experiencing maternal death between ages five and 12 was strongly associated with a shorter young adult height; however, we did not find evidence for an association between experiencing paternal death and shorter stature. We conclude that stature may not be a particularly good measure of the effects of early-life adversity if the health shock greatly increases mortality, as these effects create potential issues of health selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-279
Number of pages25
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Feb 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology

Free keywords

  • Early-life conditions
  • Health outcomes
  • Height
  • Mortality
  • Parental death


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