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Does exposure to infectious diseases in infancy affect old-age mortality? Evidence from a pre-industrial population


  • Gagnon, Alain
  • Mazan, Ryan


Many studies have shown that health conditions experienced in childhood play an important role on an individual's adult mortality. Recent research suggests that past reductions in early life exposure to infectious diseases have been a major contributor to the historical decline in old-age mortality. Drawing on French-Canadian data from cohorts born in the 17th and 18th centuries, we test whether a progressive deterioration in early life conditions (as revealed by an increasing infant mortality rate) translates into a decrease in survival prospects in late life. We use traditional demographic measures such as the age-specific probability of death, and a series of proportional hazard models to control for familial and environmental conditions. Results point toward little evidence of any early life effects. The trend of increasing infant mortality does not correlate with a general increase of mortality in older ages within the same cohorts. Period changes affecting survival at older ages (war, epidemics) as well as demographic and biological characteristics shared within families have a much larger role in old-age mortality than early life characteristics shared within the same cohorts.

Suggested Citation

  • Gagnon, Alain & Mazan, Ryan, 2009. "Does exposure to infectious diseases in infancy affect old-age mortality? Evidence from a pre-industrial population," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1609-1616, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:68:y:2009:i:9:p:1609-1616

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert William Fogel, 1993. "New Sources and New Techniques for the Study of Secular Trends in Nutritional Status, Health, Mortality, and the Process of Aging," NBER Historical Working Papers 0026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. James Vaupel, 1988. "Inherited frailty and longevity," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 25(2), pages 277-287, May.
    3. repec:cai:poeine:pope_702_0271 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Preston, Samuel H. & Hill, Mark E. & Drevenstedt, Greg L., 1998. "Childhood conditions that predict survival to advanced ages among African-Americans," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 47(9), pages 1231-1246, November.
    5. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2004:94:8:1386-1392_0 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Quaranta, Luciana, 2014. "Early life effects across the life course: The impact of individually defined exogenous measures of disease exposure on mortality by sex in 19th- and 20th-century Southern Sweden," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 266-273.
    2. Michael Murphy, 2010. "Reexamining the Dominance of Birth Cohort Effects on Mortality," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 36(2), pages 365-390.
    3. Mikko Myrskylä, 2010. "The effects of shocks in early life mortality on later life expectancy and mortality compression: A cohort analysis," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 22(12), pages 289-320, March.
    4. Nadine Ouellette & Magali Barbieri & John R. Wilmoth, 2014. "Period-Based Mortality Change: Turning Points in Trends since 1950," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 40(1), pages 77-106, March.
    5. Dong, Hao & Lee, James Z., 2014. "Kinship matters: Long-term mortality consequences of childhood migration, historical evidence from northeast China, 1792–1909," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 274-283.


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