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Setting the scene for life. Longitudinal studies of early social disadvantage and later life chances: Department of Sociology
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS).
2002 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis concerns the long-term life chances of children brought up under various conditions in Sweden during the first half of the twentieth century. The main purpose is to examine the consequences of children’s early family environment for later educational career, and ultimately, for their mortality risk at different stages of the life-course. Two aspects of family structure are focused upon: the birth order of the subject and the mother’s marital status at the time of childbirth. The four studies are all based on the 14,192 babies that were born alive at the Uppsala Academic Hospital during the period 1915–29. Nearly all these children (97.3 percent) have been successfully followed up in parish archives and later through computerised linking to census and death registries. While social class is probably one of the most commonly used indicators of childhood social conditions, the two measures of family structure used here may be assumed to capture additional aspects of childhood social circumstances in ways that differ from that of the social structure position of the parent(s). However, social class and certain biological conditions at the time of birth are also taken into consideration in the analyses as well as several indicators of adult social circumstances.

The results showed that third grade school marks worsened steadily with increasing birth order, whereas children who were born outside marriage did not manage significantly worse than those who were born inside marriage. As for achieved education, the chance of having completed upper secondary school declined dramatically with increasing birth order, and was significantly lower for subjects born outside marriage than for those who were born inside marriage. Also with regard to birth order patterns of all cause mortality in four stages of the life-course (infancy, childhood, adulthood and middle to old age) the overall picture pointed towards laterborns being at a disadvantage throughout the studied age intervals. The analyses suggested that adult socio-economic status served as a mediating variable in the association between childhood birth order position and adult mortality.

Another potential mediator between conditions in early life and later mortality is ‘marital career’. A recent study found that men who were small at birth were less likely to marry. Based on these findings the authors proposed that the link between marital status and cardiovascular disease could have its origins in intrauterine life. A replication of this study verified the link between fetal growth and subsequent marital status for men, but not for women. However, the results did not support the suggestion that growth rate in utero could explain why unmarried people have higher death rates. The final study examines whether the mother’s marital status at the time of childbirth is associated with her son’s long-term risk of ischaemic heart disease mortality, and whether any such association works via these men’s own marital status  in adulthood. The results demonstrated a significant excess IHD mortality among men born outside marriage, which was largely explained by the mortality risk among those men born outside wedlock and who never married being over twice as high as that of the corresponding group of men born to married parents.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm University&Centre for Health Equity Studies, Stockholm University/Karolinska Institutet. Health Equity Studies, no 1 , 2002. , 145 p.
Health Equity Studies, ISSN 1651-5390 ; 1
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-9511ISBN: 91-22-01998-7OAI: diva2:176030
Public defence
2002-12-18, Aulan, Sveaplan, Socialhögskolan, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2009-02-27 Created: 2007-11-22 Last updated: 2009-12-10Bibliographically approved

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