Early life conditions and long-term sickness absence during adulthood - A longitudinal study of 9000 siblings in Sweden

J. Helgertz, M.R. Persson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study examines the influence of health conditions experienced during the individual's first year of life on the incidence of sickness absence during adulthood. Using a sample of approximately 9000 biological siblings from 17 countries of origin and living in Sweden during the time period 1981-1991, sibling fixed effect models are estimated. This approach is combined with the use of an exogenous measurement of early life conditions, operationalized as the infant mortality rate. The link between early life conditions and later life outcomes is examined both with and without intermediary characteristics observed during the individual's childhood and adulthood, aiming for a better understanding regarding to what extent the effect of exposure to an early life insult can be mediated. The results suggest that exposure to worse health conditions during the first year of life is associated with an elevated risk of experiencing sickness absence during adulthood. An increase in infant mortality rate by ten per thousand is associated with a four percentage point higher probability of experiencing sickness absence. Despite the importance of adulthood socioeconomic status on sickness absence propensity, these factors do not mediate the influence from the health conditions experienced during the first year of life, suggesting that the association from early life conditions on sickness absence in adulthood operates as a direct mechanism. The link between early life conditions and sickness absence is only present for children to parents with primary schooling and not for individuals with more educated parents. These findings suggest that families with more abundant resources have the ability to protect their child from exposure to adverse health conditions during early life, or to cancel out the influence from an early life insult. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-231
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Cited By :1

Export Date: 26 December 2018


Correspondence Address: Persson, M.R.; Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, Sweden

Funding details: Vetenskapsrådet, VR, 2006-79/2008-6588

Funding details: Faculty of Arts and Sciences, FAS

Funding details: Forskningsrådet för Arbetsliv och Socialvetenskap, FAS

Funding text 1: Comments and suggestions from participants at the “Pathways to Health: How intermediary life conditions mediate or modify early life effects” seminar organized by the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Pathways to Health, Berkeley, CA, USA, May 1–2, 2012 are gratefully acknowledged. We are also grateful for the valuable comments from the editors and anonymous referees. Financial support for participation in the meeting was provided by the Linnéaus Centre for Economic Demography (Swedish Research Council, dnr 2006-79/2008-6588), and Stiftelsen Partnerskapet . Mats Persson gratefully acknowledges financial support from the project Immigrant Gaps, financed by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS) , dnr. 2004:1985 . Jonas Helgertz is equally grateful to the same project, as well as to the post-doc project “Early-life health conditions and adulthood socioeconomic outcomes in Sweden, 1968–2001”, also financed by FAS , dnr: 2011-1338 .


  • Critical period models
  • Direct and indirect effects
  • Early life conditions
  • Sibling fixed effect regression
  • Sickness absence
  • Sweden, 1981-1991
  • adult
  • health impact
  • health status
  • infant mortality
  • sibling
  • socioeconomic status
  • absenteeism
  • adulthood
  • Article
  • controlled study
  • cross-sectional study
  • early life stress
  • educational status
  • exposure
  • female
  • high risk population
  • human
  • longitudinal study
  • major clinical study
  • male
  • probability
  • protection
  • risk assessment
  • social status
  • Sweden
  • trend study
  • work environment
  • age
  • epidemiology
  • newborn
  • sex ratio
  • socioeconomics
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Sex Distribution
  • Siblings
  • Socioeconomic Factors


Dive into the research topics of 'Early life conditions and long-term sickness absence during adulthood - A longitudinal study of 9000 siblings in Sweden'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this