Young Adult Mortality Following Severe Physiological Stress in Childhood: Skeletal Evidence

Posted: 4 Apr 2006

See all articles by Richard H. Steckel

Richard H. Steckel

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


Numerous studies report that early childhood biological stress impairs health in later adulthood. Overwhelmingly these studies are based on modern data, when health conditions are quite good by historical standards. Potentially much can be learned by examining the relationship within populations that lived under enormous pressure, enduring life expectancies less than one-half of those found in industrial countries of the late twentieth century. This paper uses the skeletal remains of over 3000 individuals who lived in the Western Hemisphere as long as 6000 years ago to probe the connection between several markers of early childhood stress and survival from approximately age 15 to 30. In a logit model with explanatory variables that control for sex and ethnicity, the probability of survival was systematically 7.6 percentage points less among individuals with two or more hypoplasias, 3.9 percentage points less for those with cribra orbitalia or porotic hyperostosis, and 4.6 percentage points less for individuals stunted by 20 cm in height. The paper compares these findings with those from studies on modern data and concludes with suggestions for research.

Keywords: Fetal origins, Childhood health, Young adult mortality, Skeleton

Suggested Citation

Steckel, Richard H., Young Adult Mortality Following Severe Physiological Stress in Childhood: Skeletal Evidence. Economics & Human Biology, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 314-328, July 2005, Available at SSRN:

Richard H. Steckel (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics ( email )

1945 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43210-1172
United States
614-292-5008 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics