Long-term effects of famine on life expectancy. A re-analysis of the Great Finnish Famine 1866-1868

Gerard G. J. van den Berg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Tinbergen Institute
L.H. Lumey, Columbia University
Gabriele Doblhammer-Reiter, University of Rostock

Famines are extreme cases of nutritional stress and have been repeatedly used to explore the long-term consequences of the early life environment on late life health and mortality. Results, however, are conflicting. Most importantly, the pioneering study of Kannisto et al (1997) failed to find any long-term consequences of the Great Finnish Famine 1866-1868 on old age mortality. One possible explanation for this is that mortality selection during the famine has altered the frailty distribution of the population. This study re-analyses Finnish cohorts born in the 1860s by taking unobserved heterogeneity in mortality into account. Remaining life expectancy at age 60 for cohorts born in the first and the last year of the Great Finnish Famine is reduced, as well as that of the cohorts born in 1861 and 1862. The negative long-term consequences on mortality are rather attributable to childhood disease and typhus/dysentery than to starvation.

Presented in Session 49: Analysing health and mortality: causation and selection