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The impact of childhood living conditions on illness and mortality in adulthood


  • Lundberg, Olle


The aim was to explore the relationships between indicators of economic and social problems in childhood on the one hand and illness and mortality in adulthood on the other. In 1968 a representative sample of the Swedish population born 1906-1951 were interviewed about their childhood living conditions, among other things. Four indicators of adverse childhood living conditions were included. Two of these reflect economic circumstances (economic hardship; a large family, defined as four or more siblings), and two reflect social conditions (broken family; conflicts in the family). In 1981, 13 years later, this sample was re-interviewed. This allows for illness in 1981 to be related to reports of childhood conditions given in 1968. A follow-up of mortality for the period 1981-1984 was also conducted. When one controls for age, sex and father's social class, those exposed to economic as well as social problems during childhood are found to have a considerably higher risk of being ill as adults. Of the four factors analysed, conflicts in the family during upbringing is that most strongly related to illness later in life, as well as with mortality. Having a broken family, and, to some extent, economic hardship during childhood, are also clearly associated with illness later in life. These results also hold true when all four factors are included simultaneously in the model, and remain relatively unchanged when controlling for mental illness in 1968. The childhood period as a whole (i.e. to the age of 16) seems to be quite important for adult health in Sweden, and social problems during this period of life seem to be more important in this respect than economic ones. These findings are discussed in the light of the more biological implied by the contemporary literature. Two hypotheses for the underlying mechanisms are suggested, namely (1) a biologically increased susceptibility to illness caused directly by childhood problems and (2) unhealthy life careers triggered by childhood conditions, where the increased illness risk is the sum of several health-damaging factors. It is concluded that the findings presented here lend more support to the second of these hypotheses.

Suggested Citation

  • Lundberg, Olle, 1993. "The impact of childhood living conditions on illness and mortality in adulthood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 36(8), pages 1047-1052, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:36:y:1993:i:8:p:1047-1052

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    Cited by:

    1. Eriksson, Tor & Bratsberg, Bernt & Raaum, Oddbjørn, 2005. "Earnings persistence across generations: Transmission through health?," Memorandum 35/2005, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    2. Kristen Harknett, 2009. "Why are Children with Married Parents Healthier? The Case of Pediatric Asthma," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 28(3), pages 347-365, June.
    3. Kwok Chan & Ka Fung & Ender Demir, 2015. "The health and behavioral outcomes of out-of-wedlock children from families of social fathers," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 385-411, June.
    4. Robyn Donrovich & Paul Puschmann & Koen Matthijs, 2014. "Rivalry, solidarity, and longevity among siblings," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 31(38), pages 1167-1198, November.
    5. Osler, Merete & Madsen, Mia & Nybo Andersen, Anne-Marie & Avlund, Kirsten & Mcgue, Matt & Jeune, Bernard & Christensen, Kaare, 2009. "Do childhood and adult socioeconomic circumstances influence health and physical function in middle-age?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(8), pages 1425-1431, April.
    6. Christiaan Monden, 2010. "Do Measured and Unmeasured Family Factors Bias the Association Between Education and Self-Assessed Health?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 98(2), pages 321-336, September.
    7. Bruno Masquelier, 2013. "Adult Mortality From Sibling Survival Data: A Reappraisal of Selection Biases," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 50(1), pages 207-228, February.
    8. Hemström, Örjan, 2005. "Health inequalities by wage income in Sweden: The role of work environment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 637-647, August.
    9. Weitoft, Gunilla Ringbäck & Hjern, Anders & Batljan, Ilija & Vinnerljung, Bo, 2008. "Health and social outcomes among children in low-income families and families receiving social assistance--A Swedish national cohort study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 14-30, January.
    10. Bolin, Kristian & Jacobson, Lena & Lindgren, Bjorn, 2002. "The family as the health producer--when spouses act strategically," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 475-495, May.
    11. Mäkinen, Tomi & Laaksonen, Mikko & Lahelma, Eero & Rahkonen, Ossi, 2006. "Associations of childhood circumstances with physical and mental functioning in adulthood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(8), pages 1831-1839, April.
    12. McLaughlin, Katie A. & Breslau, Joshua & Green, Jennifer Greif & Lakoma, Matthew D. & Sampson, Nancy A. & Zaslavsky, Alan M. & Kessler, Ronald C., 2011. "Childhood socio-economic status and the onset, persistence, and severity of DSM-IV mental disorders in a US national sample," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(7), pages 1088-1096.
    13. B. Grinde, 2002. "Happiness in the Perspective of Evolutionary Psychology," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 3(4), pages 331-354, December.
    14. Schenk, Niels & van Poppel, Frans, 2011. "Social class, social mobility and mortality in the Netherlands, 1850-2004," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 401-417, July.
    15. Nicholson, Amanda & Bobak, Martin & Murphy, Michael & Rose, Richard & Marmot, Michael, 2005. "Socio-economic influences on self-rated health in Russian men and women--a life course approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(11), pages 2345-2354, December.
    16. Martin, Leslie R. & Friedman, Howard S. & Clark, Kathleen M. & Tucker, Joan S., 2005. "Longevity following the experience of parental divorce," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(10), pages 2177-2189, November.
    17. Kristensen, Petter & Bjerkedal, Tor & Irgens, Lorentz M., 2007. "Early life determinants of musculoskeletal sickness absence in a cohort of Norwegians born in 1967-1976," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(3), pages 646-655, February.
    18. Anna Christina D'Addio, 2007. "Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility Across Generations?," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 52, OECD Publishing.


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