Exogenous determinants of early-life conditions, and mortality later in life

G.J. van den Berg, G. Doblhammer, S. Christensen

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We analyze causal effects of conditions early in life on the individual mortality rate later in life. Conditions early in life are captured by transitory features of the macro-environment around birth, notably the state of the business cycle around birth, but also food price deviations, weather indicators, and demographic indicators. We argue that these features can only affect high-age mortality by way of the individual early-life conditions. Moreover, they are exogenous from the individual point of view, which is a methodological advantage compared to the use of unique characteristics of the newborn individual or his or her family or household as early-life indicators. We collected national annual time-series data on the above-mentioned indicators, and we combine these to the individual data records from the Danish Twin Registry covering births in 1873-1906. The empirical analyses (mostly based on the estimation of duration models) indicate a significant negative causal effect of economic conditions early in life on individual mortality rates at higher ages. If the national economic performance in the year of birth exceeds its trend value (i.e., if the business cycle is favorable) then the mortality rate later in life is lower. The implied effect on the median lifetime of those who survive until age 35 is about 10 months. A systematic empirical exploration of all macro-indicators reveals that economic conditions in the first years after birth also affect mortality rates later in life. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1591-1598
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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