Early life origins of health and well-being in modern Sweden
Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to examine the role of early life environments for a variety of individual-level health and socioeconomic outcomes in contemporary Sweden. Ever-expanding human lifespans have contributed to the emergence of novel socio-health phenomena confronting contemporary Swedish society. A new research framework has emerged in the last 30 years suggesting that individuals’ ability to leverage these phenomena into quality life experiences to a large extent depends on how individual lives evolve from the early moments after conception. This developmental paradigm is utilized in the thesis in order to explain individual differences in trajectories of intergenerational income mobility, entry into motherhood, childhood cognitive ability and life-time occupational attainment and, finally, late-life dementia risk, using data for contemporary Sweden. The relative importance of developmental effects for a variety of long-term outcomes is truly non-trivial. It was shown here that in some cases, detrimental effects of early disadvantage could be offset by favorable subsequent environments. This was demonstrated in the analysis of intergenerational income mobility, when richer fathers diverted some of their resources to compensate for the unfavorable offspring starts. In other cases, however, depleted capacity in early life could have irreversible long-run effects. This was illuminated in the life-course study of dementia, when subsequent investments in intellectual activities did not compensate for reduced cognitive ability early in life. A similar conclusion was drawn from the study on the relationship between fetal brain development, childhood cognition, and life-time occupational attainment, whereby inadequate in-utero brain development simultaneously affected the prerequisites for, as well as the outcomes of, human capital. Finally, even mild early exposure regimes were shown to have long-run implications for well-being, as was reported in the study on the effects of exogenously-determined health environments on entry into mothergood. Together, these findings indicate that while the trajectory of growth and development is set from the early moments of development, it is also affected by subsequent experiences. The optimum scenario, however, is the one where favorable starts are matched by favorable follow-up environments throughout the entire life-course. In conclusion, this dissertation indicates that early developmental effects are to a significant extent involved in the shaping of long-run health and well-being in contemporary Sweden.
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