Journal Article

Lifespan depends on month of birth

Doblhammer, G., Vaupel, J. W.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 98:5, 2934-2939 (2001)


Month of birth influences adult life expectancy at ages 50+. Why? In two countries of the Northern Hemisphere-Austria and Denmark-people born in autumn (October-December) live longer than those born in spring (April-June). Data for Australia show that, in the Southern Hemisphere, the pattern is shifted by half a year. The lifespan pattern of British immigrants to Australia is similar to that of Austrians and Danes and significantly different from that of Australians. These findings are based on population data with more than a million observations and little or no selectivity. The differences in lifespan are independent of the seasonal distribution of deaths and the social differences in the seasonal distribution of births. In the Northern Hemisphere, the excess mortality in the first year of life of infants born in spring does not support the explanation of selective infant survival. Instead, remaining life expectancy at age 50 appears to depend on factors that arise in utero or early in infancy and that increase susceptibility to diseases later in life. This result is consistent with the finding that, at the turn of the last century, infants born in autumn had higher birth weights than those born in other seasons. Furthermore, differences in adult lifespan by month of birth decrease over time and are significantly smaller in more recent cohorts, which benefited from substantial improvements in maternal and infant health. (© PNAS)