Growing up in wartime: Evidence from the era of two world wars

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Abstract

We document the association between war-related shocks in childhood and adult outcomes for Europeans born during the first half of the twentieth century. Using a variety of data, at both the macro- and the micro-level, we address the following questions: What are the patterns of mortality among Europeans born during this period? Do war-related shocks in childhood and adolescence help predict adult health, human capital and wellbeing of the survivors? Are there differences by sex, socio-economic status in childhood, and age when the shocks occurred? At the macro-level, we show that the secular trend towards lower mortality was interrupted by dramatic increases in mortality during World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, and we quantify the size of these mortality shocks. Different patterns characterize these high-mortality episodes, with substantial variation by country, sex and age group. At the micro-level, we show that war-related hardship in childhood or adolescence, in particular exposure to war events and experience of hunger, is associated with worse physical and mental health, education, cognitive ability and subjective wellbeing at older ages. The strength of the association differs by sex and type of hardship, with war exposure being more important for females and experience of hunger for males. We also show that hardships matter more if experienced in childhood, and have stronger consequences if they last longer.

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