Centre for Economic Demography

Lund University School of Economics and Management

Pathways to Health and Wellbeing: future research

Our research on the relationship between early human development, socioeconomic performance and later-life health focuses on how exposures may operate either through sensitive-critical periods or accumulation of risk pathways. Transmissions across generations, either through biological and/or social pathways are also investigated, as are causal mechanisms. Quantifying the influence of interventions, especially in relation to the optimal timing of such interventions, is also of great importance.

Recently, evidence has accumulated that the conditions early in life influence health at higher ages. Children born under adverse economic and nutritional conditions or with a high disease exposure in the birth year have higher morbidity and mortality rates later in life. Most of the evidence concerns conditions in utero or shortly after birth. Much less is known about conditions at other childhood ages. It is conceivable that the age interval from birth to adulthood contains so-called critical periods during which sub-optimal conditions have particularly adverse long-run implications for health later in life. In our future research we will identify the ages that constitute critical periods in the development of children towards their adult health status. For this we will use data on families migrating into Sweden from countries that are mostly poorer, with less healthy conditions. The relation between the age of siblings at migration and their long-run health at age 18 allows us to estimate the causal effect of conditions at a certain age on adult/long-run health. Long-run health is proxied by adult height, obesity, stature, blood pressure, aerobic capacity, sight, and hearing, as well as specific medical diagnoses.

Another line of future research is to estimate the returns to adolescent health, measured at age 18, in terms of later-life earnings in a large sample of Swedish men. We can focus on health indicators that are well-defined, have relatively high prevalence and well-known causes and consequences, such as obesity, stature, blood pressure, aerobic capacity, eye sight, and hearing, and specific medical diagnoses. A specific aim for this research has been to also address the channels through which adolescent health may affect earnings. That is, we have pinpointed the extent to which certain health adversities manifest themselves in lower later-life earnings via lower educational levels, higher unemployment rates, and sick leave and/or early retirement.

The recent finding using the updated version of SEDD - that no sign of socioeconomically differentiated adult mortality appears until in the 1950s and 1960s (reported under Research Area The Demographic Transition) - challenges many of the explanations for current social mortality differences. SEDD and several of the other databases accessible to us allow for detailed studies of the mechanisms by which social and economic factors at various stages of life influence cognition and health outcomes. By linking SEDD to the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (the Swedish part of a European program to store patient samples) we will be able to study the effects of various factors, including interventions, on biomarkers. A test shows that we have access to blood samples for 21 per cent of the SEDD population born around 1920 and that the proportion increases thereafter.