Mortality Decline in the Twentieth Century, Early Life Conditions and the Health of Aging Populations in the Developing World

McEniry, Mary
Working paper no. 2009-04


The dramatic mortality decline of the 1930s-1960s may shed light on the importance of early life conditions for older adult health in the developing world. We collected historical data on life expectancy, infant mortality, GDP per capita, age-specific mortality rates and population growth rates for 19 countries which have population surveys on older adult health. We then developed a classification of demographic regimes to distinguish cohorts of the 1930s-1960s whose survivors at older ages are potentially more influenced by the effects of poor early life conditions. Prior to 1945 and compared with cohorts from earlier (e.g. Argentina, Uruguay) and later regimes (e.g India, Indonesia, China), old-age survivors from cohorts of the late 1920s-early 1940s in mid-demographic regimes (e.g. Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Chile, Taiwan, South Africa) are more likely to have been influenced by poor early life conditions. Using the classification it is possible to examine early life conditions and adult health with cross national data, controlling for important confounding factors such as standard of living and health care across the life course.