Do conditions in early life affect old-age mortality directly and indirectly? Evidence form 19th-century rural Sweden.

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Previous research has shown that the disease load experienced during the birth year, measured as the infant mortality rate, had a significant influence on old-age mortality in nineteenth-century rural Sweden. We know that children born in years with very high rates of infant mortality, due to outbreaks of smallpox or whooping cough, and who still survived to adulthood and married, faced a life length several years shorter than others. We do not know, however, whether this is a direct effect, caused by permanent physical damage leading to fatal outcomes later in life, or an indirect effect, via its influence on accumulation of wealth and obtained socio-economic status. The Scanian Demographic Database, with information on five rural parishes in southern Sweden between 1813 and 1894, contains the data needed to distinguish between the two mechanisms. First, the effects of conditions in childhood on obtained socio-economic status as an adult are analyzed, then the effects of both early-life conditions and socio-economic status at various stages of life on old-age mortality. By including random effects, we take into account possible dependencies in the data due to kinship and marriage. We find that a high disease load during the first year of life had a strong negative impact on a person's ability to acquire wealth, never before shown for a historical setting. This means that it is indeed possible that the effects of disease load in the first year of life indirectly affect mortality in old age through obtained socio-economic status. We find, however, no effects of obtained socio-economic status on old-age mortality. While the result is interesting per se, constituting a debatable issue, it means that the argument that early-life conditions indirectly affect old-age mortality is not supported. Instead, we find support for the conclusion that the effect of the disease load in early-life is direct or, in other words, that physiological damage from severe infections at the start of life leads to higher mortality at older ages. Taking random effects at family level into account did not alter this conclusion.


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Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Folkhälsovetenskap, global hälsa, socialmedicin och epidemiologi
Sidor (från-till)1583-1590
TidskriftSocial Science and Medicine
Utgåva nummer9 - Online 13 March 2009
StatusPublished - 2009
Peer review utfördJa