Health, life course and ageing

Research on health, life course and ageing by members of the Helsinki Institute for Demography and Population Health.
The Lockdown Cohort-Effect: Does the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fertility lead to longterm consequences for health and public services provision?

The COVID-19 pandemic placed a heavy social and health burden on populations. Yet, because of potential social inequalities in the pandemic’s impact on fertility behaviour, babies conceived during the pandemic may be the most socially advantaged and healthiest birth cohort of the last decades. Research on this counterintuitive but realistic consequence of the pandemic – the Lockdown Cohort (LoCo)-Effect – is critical for public policy and the understanding of pandemic consequences. 

As individual-level register data for babies conceived and born in 2021 and later is only just becoming available, we still know little about how the pandemic changed the composition of parents and to what extent this explains changes in birth outcomes for those born during the pandemic. To address this knowledge gap, we will use population-wide individual-level register data (2010-2022) from high-, middle-, and low-income countries and natural experimental methods to study the LoCo-effect comparatively in an EU-funded project (MSCA Postdoctoral European Fellowship). This will strengthen the generalisability of our results across different welfare regimes and pandemic experiences. As parental characteristics and birth outcomes shape health, developmental, and socioeconomic outcomes throughout life, the results of this project will be important for future social and public health research and policy.  

Researchers: Moritz Oberndorfer, Juha Luukkonen, Hanna Remes, Pekka Martikainen 

Keywords: Register-based individual-level data; comparative research, social epidemiology; health inequalities; birth outcomes; natural experimental methods 

Social inequalities in the risk and aftermath of miscarriage (SOC-MISC)

The spontaneous loss of pregnancy, that is, miscarriage before 24 weeks of gestation, affects around 25 % of women and may cause mental and physical health problems. Although stress due to financial conditions or high-pressure jobs may increase the risk of a miscarriage, the role of social inequalities in this risk has rarely been investigated. Similarly, we know little about the social parameters that affect the mental and physical well-being of women following a miscarriage. Funded by the European Research Council, and led by Dr Heini Väisänen from INED, France, the SOC-MISC project aims to address this gap in knowledge using data from registers and surveys in Finland, France and the United Kingdom. The aim is to use these results to improve population health. For more information, please see project website: 

Researchers: Hanna Remes, Pekka Martikainen 

Development of the child and its health consequences

Childhood is a critical phase of life for the formation of the further health risk factor profile. We found that childhood physical development is strictly genetically regulated in several Western (Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and US) populations, and genetic factors affect strongly also on cognitive and other mental development. This regulation is also very similar in Japanese and Chinese populations in spite of large ethnic and environmental differences to Western populations. Childhood social environment was found to modify the effects of genetic and environmental factors. Physical development in childhood was associated with metabolic risk factor profile and risk of metabolic diseases in adulthood. At the moment the main focus is to understand better how physical development is associated with mental development in childhood and how societal macro environment modifies the role of genetic and environmental factors behind the physical development of the child.

Key words: childhood, physical development, mental development, genetics, ethnicity, international comparisons

Researchers: Karri Silventoinen and Aline Jelenkovic

Life course and economic implications of demographic change (LIFECON)

Population ageing challenges the resiliency of the welfare state. This research project provides a broad understanding of individual-,meso- and macro-level causes, consequences and solutions relating to demographic changes, focusing on their life course and economic implications. The project consortium includes members from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Etla Economic Research andt he University of Helsinki. For this project, we adopt a multidisciplinary research approach, covering the fields of demography, economics, sociology, social psychology, public health research, applied mathematics, work and organisational psychology and history. Furthermore, interaction partners, including decision makers and other key stakeholders, are involved in the project. The project consists of interconnected work packages (WP) that address cross-cutting themes, such as age, gender, socioeconomic factors, migration, regionality, health and wellbeing. WP 1 focuses on the causes and consequences of changing structures relating to family formation, including fertility. WP 2 focuses on the causes and consequences of changes in the structures of working life and solutions relating to interventions promoting work participation. WP 3 focuses on long-term mortality trends, as well as causes and consequences of changes in factors relating to the health, disability and care needs of ageing individuals. WP 4 analyses the economic effects of future demographic changes and studies the impacts of a broad set of social and fiscal policies on social and financial sustainability, with the aim of providing solutions to adapt to these changes in demographic structure. In WP 5, interaction partners are involved in the research processes of WPs 1–4, with the target of informing them on implications of demographic trends and engaging them in the elaboration of policy analysis and recommendations. We use Finnish register data, including rich longitudinal information on individual-level factors, as well as meso- and macro-level data. We will apply statistical methods that can rigorously address the time trends and causality of the associations of interest. This project will provide a broad understanding of the causes and consequences of population ageing and find solutions that will help to ensure the sustainability of the welfare state and increase individual, societal and intergenerational wellbeing.

Researchers: Pekka Martikainen, Kaarina Korhonen, Liina Junna, Ulla Suulamo, Juha Luukkonen, Lasse Tarkiainen, Margherita Moretti, Shubhankar Sharma, Luca Dei Bardi

Risk factors of obesity and metabolic diseases

Rapid increase in the standard of living, unparalleled to any phase of human history, has leaded to dramatic increase of obesity and metabolic diseases in western societies. Genetic factors explain important part of the individual differences in body mass index and their role increases from childhood to adulthood. Genetic factors can also be found behind eating behavior and other risk factors of obesity. However socio-economic factors and cognitive ability are also associated with obesity and metabolic diseases. Genetic and environmental factors interact and their effects on metabolic factors vary between different social contexts. In this research we aim to study the complex relationships between genetic factors, socio-economic micro-environment and societal macro-environment in the formation of metabolic disorders and diseases.

Key words: obesity, metabolic diseases, genetics, socio-economic factors, gene-environment interactions

Researcher: Karri Silventoinen

Social determinants of dementia and institutional long-term care

Among the many concerns relating to population ageing is the growing number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Progressive dementia is one of the most important causes of disability at older ages and people with dementia commonly need long-term institutional care at the end of life. This project will enhance understanding of the dynamics between socioeconomic, demographic and health-related factors that contribute to dementia risk throughout the life-course and the use of institutional long-term care with dementia.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, elderly, life course, long-term care, socioeconomic position, nursing home

Researcher: Kaarina Korhonen

Key publications:

Korhonen, K., Einiö, E., Leinonen, T., Tarkiainen, L., & Martikainen, P. (2018). Time-varying effects of socio-demographic and economic factors on the use of institutional long-term care before dementia-related death: A Finnish register-based study. PloS one, 13(6), e0199551.

Korhonen, K., Einiö, E., Leinonen, T., Tarkiainen, L., & Martikainen, P. (2020). Midlife socioeconomic position and old-age dementia mortality: a large prospective register-based study from Finland. BMJ open, 10(1)

Union stability and mental health in families with children: the role of grandparents

Growing family instability is suggested to increase the importance of multigenerational ties in contemporary societies. Previous studies propose that contacts with grandparents may improve children’s adjustment to parental separation, but it is unclear how grandparental characteristics shape the short-term and long-term mental health effects that parental separation has on children. Little is also known about the importance of grandparents for the separating parents’ own mental health. This study aims to fill these gaps. Using longitudinal register-data on all Finnish families with children, as well as their grandparents, we examine how the effect of parental separation on children’s mental health, and the association between parents’ separation and their own mental health, are shaped by grandparental characteristics.

Key words: mental health, union stability, intergenerational effects

Researchers: Niina Metsä-Simola, Hanna Remes

Key publications: Metsä-Simola, N., Baranowska-Rataj, A., Remes, H., Kühn, M., & Martikainen, P. (2024). Grandparental support and maternal depression: do grandparental characteristics matter more for separating mothers? Population Studies.