Journal Article

Socioeconomic status across the life course and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in Finland

Elo, I. T., Martikainen, P., Myrskylä, M.

Social Science and Medicine, 119, 198-206 (2014)



We used high quality register based data to study the relationship between childhood and adult socio-demographic characteristics and all-cause and cause-specific mortality at ages 35-72 in Finland among cohorts born in 1936-1950. The analyses were based on a 10% sample of households drawn from the 1950 Finnish Census of Population with the follow-up of household members in subsequent censuses and death records beginning from the end of 1970 through the end of 2007. The strengths of these data come from the fact that neither childhood nor adult characteristics are self reported and thus are not subject to recall bias, misreporting and no loss to follow-up after age 35. In addition, the study population includes several families with at least two children enabling us to control for unobserved family characteristics. We documented significant associations between early life social and family conditions on all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality, with protective effects of higher childhood socio-demographic characteristics varying between 10% and 30%. These associations were mostly mediated through adult educational attainment and occupation, suggesting that the indirect effects of childhood conditions were more important than their direct effects. We further found that adult socioeconomic status was a significant predictor of mortality. The associations between adult characteristics and mortality were robust to controls for observed and unobserved childhood characteristics. The results imply that long-term adverse health consequences of disadvantaged early life social circumstances may be mitigated by investments in educational and employment opportunities in early adulthood.