Disease, death, and displacement: the long-term effects of early-life conditions on income, education, and health in Sweden, 1937-2011
Lund studies in economic history 98
VII, 48 pages. Lund, Lund University (2021)
How are people’s lives shaped by what they experience during infancy, childhood, and adolescence? How are their adult lives impacted by a sudden improvement or worsening in their early-life conditions?
This dissertation aims at providing some insights about how specific changes in early-life conditions can affect individuals’ lives in the long-term. It focuses on three very different shocks to early-life conditions: (1) exposure to disease and vaccination, studied through the case of polio and the vaccine against it, (2) experiencing forced migration, studied through the case of Yugoslavian refugees in Sweden, and (3) losing a parent during the childhood years.
Since they alter the environment in which children develop, these experiences can also have long-term repercussions in their adult outcomes. Using high-quality, individual-level data from the Swedish administrative registers, as well as methods of causal inference, the four studies in this thesis attempt at understanding
how these shocks can affect the educational attainment, adult health, and adult income of the children who lived through them.
For the case of disease and vaccination, the results show that there was no evidence that exposure during early life to either a polio outbreak, or to introduction of the vaccine against the disease, had long-term impacts on adult income, education, or health. Through the study of the case of polio, this thesis contributes to our understanding of scarring effects of disease exposure,
particularly by showing that not all shocks and diseases have repercussions felt across the years, even if those effects are theoretically plausible, a case that had not really been discussed in the literature so far.
For the case of forced migration, the results show that asylum-seeking children who arrived in Sweden as a consequence of the mid-90’s war in Yugoslavia had lower educational outcomes, compared to non-displaced children, measured almost a decade after the exposure occurred. Finally, for the case of parental death, the results provide evidence that there is an association between parental loss during childhood and lower adult income, educational attainment, and worse health. This analysis also suggests that children’s grief and emotional trauma related to losing a parent is a relevant mechanism for the observed effects.