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Long-Run Longevity Effects of a Nutritional Shock Early in Life: The Dutch Potato Famine of 1846-1847

24 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2007  

Gerard J. van den Berg

VU University Amsterdam - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Tinbergen Institute

Maarten Lindeboom

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Tinbergen Institute Amsterdam; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

France Portrait

VU University Amsterdam - Department of Economics

Date Written: October 2007

Abstract

Background: Nutrition in utero and infancy may causally affect health and mortality at old ages. Until now, very few studies have demonstrated long-Run effects on survival of early life nutrition, mainly because of data limitations and confounding issues. Methods: This paper investigates whether exposure to nutritional shocks in early life negatively affects longevity at older ages, using unique individual data and exploiting the exogenous variation implied by natural experiments. In particular, early nutritional conditions are instrumented by exposure to the potato famine of unprecedented severity that the Dutch faced in 1846-47. The individual data are from the Historical Sample of the Netherlands and are augmented by food price data and macro-economic data. The sample used in the study covers lifetimes of 398 individuals exposed and 1,342 individuals not exposed to severe famine during gestation and/or till age three. We compare non-parametrically the total and residual lifetimes of treated and controls per gender. We also estimate survival models in which we control for other individual characteristics and additional (early life) determinants of mortality. Results: Men exposed to severe famine during pregnancy (at least four months) and directly after birth have a significant lower residual life expectancy at age 50 than others, but not at earlier ages. We could not demonstrate any long-run effects for men exposed at ages 0-2 and for women. Conclusion: To our knowledge, this is the first evidence suggesting long-run effects of early nutritional stresses on mortality at old ages for men.

Keywords: nutrition in early life, famine, longevity, natural experiments, survival analysis, mortality, food intake, developmental origins, fetal origins

JEL Classification: N33, J10, I10

Suggested Citation

van den Berg, Gerard J. and Lindeboom, Maarten and Portrait, France, Long-Run Longevity Effects of a Nutritional Shock Early in Life: The Dutch Potato Famine of 1846-1847 (October 2007). IZA Discussion Paper No. 3123. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1032100

Gerard J. Van den Berg

VU University Amsterdam - Department of Economics ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Netherlands
+31 20 444 6132 (Phone)
+32 20 444 6020 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Tinbergen Institute

Burg. Oudlaan 50
Rotterdam, 3062 PA
Netherlands

Maarten Lindeboom

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Netherlands
+31 20 444 6033 (Phone)
+31 20 444 6020 (Fax)

Tinbergen Institute Amsterdam

Gustav Mahlerplein 117
Amsterdam, 1082 MS
Netherlands

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

France Portrait (Contact Author)

VU University Amsterdam - Department of Economics ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Netherlands
+31 20 444 6155 (Phone)

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