Population Health

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Research Area

Health and Mortality over the Life Course

In this research area, we examine how experiences accumulated across the life course affect cognitive functioning, socioeconomic and educational attainment, as well as morbidity and mortality in adulthood. 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 achievement at school, which in turn affects final educational attainment, occupational sorting, patterns of health behaviors, and health trajectories throughout life. 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.

Naturally, no individual is an island. Socioeconomic and educational attainment, health, and mortality are all affected by meso- and macro-level conditions and events, whether that is family socioeconomic status, the death of a parent during childhood, school quality, the loss of a spouse, or forced migration. Research in this area therefore 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, exacerbate, or buffer against previous experience and exposures. This approach allows us to develop a deeper understanding of the extent to which health disparities are modifiable, to determine which factors are the best targets for intervention, and to assess 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, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Italy; these provide wide variations in the institutional context and social welfare regimes. We also use data from a variety of data sources, including 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-, meso-, 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.

Research Keywords:

Aging, Mortality and Longevity, Family Behavior, Health Care, Public Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology, Life Course

Projects of this Research Area

Linked Lives: The Importance of the Family for Socioeconomic Attainment, Health, and Mortality Project details
Early-Life Determinants of Cognitive Functioning, Health, and Mortality Project details
Health and Migration Project details
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.