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Long-term Effects of Famine on Life Expectancy: A Re-analysis of the Great Finnish Famine of 1866-1868


  • Doblhammer, Gabriele

    () (University of Rostock)

  • van den Berg, Gerard J.

    () (University of Bristol)

  • Lumey, Lambert H.

    () (Columbia University)


Famines are extreme cases of environmental stress, and have been used by a series of studies to explore the long-term consequences of the fetal or childhood environment. Results are inconsistent and do not support negative long-term effects on mortality. The authors test the hypothesis that selection during famine changes the frailty distributions of cohorts and may hide negative long-term effects. They use death counts from age 60+ from the Human Mortality Data Base for the birth cohorts 1850-1854, 1855-1859, 1860-1865, 1866-1868, 1869-1874, 1875-1879, 1880-1884 and 1885-1889 to explore the effect of being born during the Great Finnish Famine 1866-1868. Swedish cohorts without famine exposure are analysed as a control group. Cohorts born in Finland during the Great Finnish Famine are highly heterogeneous in their distribution of deaths after age 60. By contrast, cohorts born in the years immediately after the famine are particularly homogeneous. Accounting for these differences results into a lower remaining life expectancy at age 60 for cohorts born during the famine. Statistically, long-term effects of famine on mortality become only visible when changes in the frailty distribution of cohorts are explicitly considered.

Suggested Citation

  • Doblhammer, Gabriele & van den Berg, Gerard J. & Lumey, Lambert H., 2011. "Long-term Effects of Famine on Life Expectancy: A Re-analysis of the Great Finnish Famine of 1866-1868," IZA Discussion Papers 5534, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp5534

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gerard J. van den Berg & Maarten Lindeboom & France Portrait, 2006. "Economic Conditions Early in Life and Individual Mortality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 290-302, March.
    2. Van den Berg, Gerard J., 2001. "Duration models: specification, identification and multiple durations," Handbook of Econometrics,in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 55, pages 3381-3460 Elsevier.
    3. van den Berg, Gerard J. & Doblhammer, Gabriele & Christensen, Kaare, 2009. "Exogenous determinants of early-life conditions, and mortality later in life," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1591-1598, May.
    4. Lindeboom, Maarten & Portrait, France & van den Berg, Gerard J., 2010. "Long-run effects on longevity of a nutritional shock early in life: The Dutch Potato famine of 1846-1847," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 617-629, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Grönqvist, Erik & Norén, Anna & Sjögren, Anna & Svaleryd, Helena, 2016. "Sober mom, healthy baby? Effects of brief alcohol interventions in Swedish maternity care," Working Paper Series 2016:16, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.

    More about this item


    debilitation; selection; old-age mortality; early life circumstances;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • C41 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Duration Analysis; Optimal Timing Strategies

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