Grandmaternal shadow on health inequalities

Written by Emre Sari, The Centre for Economic Research 

Inequalities, especially health inequality, are quite complex due to the economic, technological, and cultural developments of nations, and globalization. What is it that inspires economists to think ahead of their scope of expertise concerning social inequalities in health?

Health is one of the main determinants of well-being as an economic resource. It helps to measure the quality of human capital. On the other hand, differences in individual and even neighbourhood socioeconomic status are among the main mechanisms underlying health inequalities. When we take a more in-depth look at health inequalities for adults, it is clear that this problem cannot be fully explained only by adulthood health choices and socioeconomic status. – Even conditions in early life and mild shocks in the womb may affect health later in life.

In a current study, we focus on health transmission from grandmother to grandchild. We want to understand how the health of a grandchild gets effected by shiftings in ecenomy during the grandmother’s pregnancy of the grandchild’s mother.

Our question is: How far does the origin of our current health condition go?

Our research examined population counts in Rendalen, covering the period 1733-1925.

By testing an up-to-date hypothesis through a historical data set, we can open a door for understanding later in life health inequalities. Thanks to the fetal origins hypothesis, we know that our mother’s health and even her socioeconomic status have a significant impact on our health today. With this study, we take this one step further and include the grandmother to our health equation.

Ultimately, the next question is: Why is it important to understand the roots of our unfortunate health outcomes today? Except for acute injuries, some infectious and genetic diseases, there may be many resources behind your health outcomes. Life-style, education, income, occupational status, and neighbourhood, are factors affecting our health. Those variables can be changed somehow within your life span. However, what you inherited by birth cannot be reversed easily without identifying it clearly. Therefore, we must proceed to the very root of the problem and set the diagnosis correctly to intervene in time to prevent future negativities.

Emre Sari

Our findings are critical to shed light on health outcomes from an intergenerational perspective. However, many studies with more modern data should be conducted in the following years.

For future Research, we will investigate deeper into intergenerational mechanisms of health transmission, linking Tromsø Study Data (Tromsøundersøkelsen) with Norwegian Historical Population Register data.




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