Healthy Start in Life – International Study
If a state promotes the health of its infants, it marks them for life. The female sex in particular notices – for example, in their education, career and earnings. This is what a team led by Prof. Dr. Martin Karlsson from the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) found out. Looking back to Sweden in the 1930s, they investigated how the government tackled the high infant mortality rate at the time and how positive the side effects were. The study is forthcoming in the prestigious Review of Economics and Statistics.
Infants develop quickly. After one year, their brains are twice as large; in three-year-olds, the volume approaches that of an adult. Infections damage this development. There were many of them in the 1920s. The Swedish government therefore supported newborns and mothers with health measures in the 1930s. For example, with campaigns on hygiene and medical examinations. The program was the precursor to today’s preventive medical checkups.
In the international study*, Prof. Karlsson and his research team show how important the health intervention was for the little ones‘ ability to think. To do so, they dug through files (1930-2005) in Swedish municipal, school and tax archives. „We wanted to find out how a simple, inexpensive government health intervention shaped people’s lives,“ explains the UDE-scientist.
The first result was that improved care influenced development into retirement age. Many girls achieved better grades in elementary school than before and were more likely than boys to go on to secondary school; this was the case for only about one in five children.
Better job opportunities for women
Secondary education improved the Swedes‘ chances on the labor market. They were much more likely to get municipal jobs in the public sector, even full-time. „This is consistent with our assumption that the rapid growth of the welfare state created jobs for women in particular,“ Karlsson says. At the same time, they were increasingly employed in highly jobs – for example, as managers in companies, banks, administration or accounting.
Why did they benefit so much? „With the data, we can pretty much show when the benefits occurred in the life cycle. Those at the end of elementary school are critical. Girls also had better grades on average than boys before that – and the program improved their chances of being in the top fifth,“ the professor says. „Our results show how much a simple, low-cost intervention benefits infant health.“ In addition, he said, they offer approaches to today’s ‚global learning crisis‘, in which millions of children are missing their cognitive potential.
* The international study, led by Karlsson, also involved the University of Essex (Colchester, United Kingdom) and Lund University (Lund, Sweden). Publication: https://www.york.ac.uk/media/economics/documents/hedg/workingpapers/1806.pdf
Prof. Martin Karlsson, Ph.D., Health Economics, phone +49 (0)201/18 3-3716, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editors: Alexandra Niessen, phone +49 (0)203/37 9-1487, email@example.com