Population Health

Research Area

Health and Mortality over the Life Course

Keywords: Ageing, Mortality and Longevity; Life Course; Family Behavior; Health Care, Public Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology

An important question regarding health is how health capital is built across the life course and how both positive and negative influences at various stages in the life course (potentially even before birth) might influence health and mortality later in life. We examine the degree to which social and environmental conditions at various points in the life course contribute to health, cognitive functioning, and mortality, and through which mechanisms these influences operate. Conditions in utero, during childhood, adolescence, and adult ages contribute independently to later-life health and mortality. Moreover, circumstances experienced at any given point in life are conditional on past experiences. For example, disadvantage early in life can lower educational performance in school, which in turn affects final educational attainment, occupational sorting, patterns of health behaviors, and health trajectories throughout life.

To understand why and how social and environmental conditions at various points in the life course matter for later health and mortality, we examine the mechanisms and pathways through which these conditions affect health. We investigate how individual-level factors – such as health behaviors and educational and socioeconomic attainment, as well as major life-course events such as birth and migration – mediate and moderate future health and mortality. We also examine the extent to which these patterns are heterogeneous across salient social categories such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. In addition, we look at how durable an advantage or a disadvantage at a given point in the life course is for health, with a particular focus on migrants. Research in this area goes beyond the individual level to consider how meso-level factors such as family conditions and kin availability, as well as macro-level factors such as economic conditions and general resource availability, mediate, moderate, and buffer against previous experience and exposures. This approach allows us to develop a deeper understanding of the extent to which health disparities are modifiable and to determine which factors are the best targets for intervention, and at which points in the life course such interventions might be most effective.

To address these questions, we use data from a range of countries in Western Europe and North America, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Italy, as well as a variety of data sources, such as high-quality survey data, contemporary administrative population registers, and historical demographic datasets. Our research focuses on applying careful research designs and innovative statistical methods to high-quality longitudinal individual-level data in order to identify the causal effects of micro- and macro-level conditions at various points in the life course on health and mortality, and in order to formally evaluate the extent to which these effects are mediated by intervening factors using techniques such as the G-formula.

Projects of this Research Area: