Why People Born During World War II are Healthier
52 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 10, 2017
War leads civilians to suffer. This can take extreme forms, such as during periods of intense violence or famines. But also outside of such episodes, civilians’ lives during wars can be harsh, as they suffer from poorer nutritional situations, stress, recessions, and sub optimally functioning health care systems. The more extreme types of suffering are proven to lead to a worse health among those prenatally exposed to them. But long-run effects of prenatal exposure to the latter circumstances have thus far largely been unexplored, even though in many wars more pregnant women are exposed to these “everyday” circumstances than to the extreme circumstances. We study the general, population-wide effects of prenatal World War II exposure in three occupied countries: France, Belgium and The Netherlands, without zooming in on specific severe episodes such as the Dutch famine. We show that – contrary to expectations – prenatal exposure to WWII does not lead to poorer health among the older population. We even find strong indications for a better health, especially among exposed females, but demonstrate that this is due to selective mortality among the war cohorts during infanthood and to selective fertility during WWII. As these selection effects are likely to be stronger during more extreme historical circumstances than the ones studied here, previous research on long-term effects of such prenatal exposures may have underestimated effects. Long-run negative population-wide health effects from prenatal WWII exposure in France, Belgium and The Netherlands are absent or at most very small.
Keywords: World War 2, World War II, Early Life, War, Health, Fetal Origins, Elderly, Europe
JEL Classification: I10, J14, N34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation