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The impact of early twentieth century illegitimacy across three generations. Longevity and intergenerational health correlates


  • Modin, Bitte
  • Koupil, Ilona
  • Vågerö, Denny


This study contributes to the understanding of how social mortality patterns are reproduced across generations by documenting associations of women's marital status at childbirth in the beginning of last century with selected health indicators across three subsequent generations of their offspring, and by highlighting a special set of plausible mechanisms linked to this particular event in history. We use the Multigenerational Uppsala Birth Cohort Study (UBCoS) database consisting of 12,168 individuals born at Uppsala University Hospital in 1915-1929 (UG1), their children (UG2) and grandchildren (UG3). Results showed that men and women born outside wedlock (BOW) in early twentieth century Sweden were at an increased risk of adult mortality compared to those who were born in wedlock (BIW), and the men were also significantly less likely to reach their 80th birthday. The question of childhood social disadvantage and its long-term consequences for health is then taken one step further by examining their offspring in two subsequent generations in terms of four specific anthropometric and psychological outcomes at the time of military conscription, all known to predict disease and mortality later in life. Results showed that sons of men BOW as well as sons and grandsons of women BOW had significantly lower psychological functioning and cognitive ability. Regarding body mass index and height, however, significant associations were found only among descendants of men BOW. The anthropometric and psychological disadvantages found among descendents of individuals BOW were partly mediated by their social class background. The four outcomes observed early in the lives of UG2s and UG3s do in fact constitute early health determinants, each potentially influencing longevity and mortality risk in these generations. We conclude that the social disadvantage imposed on those BOW in early twentieth century Sweden appears to be reproduced as a health disadvantage in their children and grandchildren, with likely consequences for mortality among these.

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  • Modin, Bitte & Koupil, Ilona & Vågerö, Denny, 2009. "The impact of early twentieth century illegitimacy across three generations. Longevity and intergenerational health correlates," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1633-1640, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:68:y:2009:i:9:p:1633-1640

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hemmingsson, Tomas & Lundberg, Ingvar & Diderichsen, Finn, 1999. "The roles of social class of origin, achieved social class and intergenerational social mobility in explaining social-class inequalities in alcoholism among young men," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 49(8), pages 1051-1059, October.
    2. Horrell, Sara & Humphries, Jane & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2001. "Destined for Deprivation: Human Capital Formation and Intergenerational Poverty in Nineteenth-Century England," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 339-365, July.
    3. 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.
    4. Singh-Manoux, Archana & Marmot, Michael, 2005. "Role of socialization in explaining social inequalities in health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(9), pages 2129-2133, May.
    5. Modin, Bitte & Vågerö, Denny & Hallqvist, Johan & Koupil, Ilona, 2008. "The contribution of parental and grandparental childhood social disadvantage to circulatory disease diagnosis in young Swedish men," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(4), pages 822-834, February.
    6. Modin, Bitte, 2003. "Born out of wedlock and never married--it breaks a man's heart," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(3), pages 487-501, August.
    7. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2004.047340_6 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Kandyce Larson & Neal Halfon, 2013. "Parental divorce and adult longevity," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 58(1), pages 89-97, February.
    2. Donrovich, Robyn & Drefahl, Sven & Koupil, Ilona, 2014. "Early life conditions, partnership histories, and mortality risk for Swedish men and women born 1915–1929," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 60-67.
    3. Chaparro, M.P. & Koupil, Ilona, 2014. "The impact of parental educational trajectories on their adult offspring's overweight/obesity status: A study of three generations of Swedish men and women," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 199-207.
    4. Elo, Irma T. & Martikainen, Pekka & Myrskylä, Mikko, 2014. "Socioeconomic status across the life course and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in Finland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 198-206.
    5. Kieron J. Barclay & Martin Kolk, 2017. "The Long-Term Cognitive and Socioeconomic Consequences of Birth Intervals: A Within-Family Sibling Comparison Using Swedish Register Data," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 54(2), pages 459-484, April.
    6. van den Berg, Gerard J. & Gupta, Sumedha, 2015. "The role of marriage in the causal pathway from economic conditions early in life to mortality," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 141-158.


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