A re-analysis of the long-term effects on life expectancy of the Great Finnish Famine of 1866-68

Gabriele Doblhammer*, Gerard J. van den Berg, L. H. Lumey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The results of studies exploring the long-term consequences of famine during foetal or infant development are inconsistent. We tested the hypothesis that selection forces occurring during a famine change the distribution of frailty in the affected cohorts, possibly hiding negative long-term effects. Using mortality data for Finland, gathered from the Human Mortality Database, we explored the effect of being born during the Great Finnish Famine of 1866-68 by comparing mortality at age 60 and over for the 1850-89 births, taking into account unobserved cohort heterogeneity. Contemporaneous Swedish cohorts, unexposed to the famine, were used as an additional control group. When cohort heterogeneity is accounted for, a lower life expectancy at age 60 for male cohorts in Finland born during the famine is observed. The results for females are less conclusive. No substantial changes are seen in the Swedish cohorts. In order to provide consistent estimates of the long-run effects of famines, selection forces need to be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-322
Number of pages14
JournalPopulation Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • debilitation
  • early life circumstances
  • frailty
  • old-age mortality
  • selection

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