The aim of this study is to assess the effects of economic conditions in early life on cause-specific mortality during adulthood. The analyses are performed on a unique historical sample of 14,520 Dutch individuals born in 1880-1918, who are followed throughout life. The economic conditions in early life are characterized using cyclical variations in annual real per capital gross domestic product during pregnancy and the first year of life. Exposure to recessions in early life appears to significantly increase cancer mortality risks of older males and females. It also significantly increases other mortality risks especially for older females. The residual life expectancies are up to about 8 and 6 % lower for male and female cancer mortality, respectively, and up to about 5 % lower for female cardiovascular mortality. Our analyses show that cardiovascular and cancer mortality risks are related and that not taking this association into account leads to biased inference. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.