SAGE KE Bulletin Board

Early-Life Predictors of Human Longevity

30 January 2004

Dr. Leonid A. Gavrilov


As a supplement to the earlier posting, please find attached below the ABSTRACT of this new published article for possible feedback and discussion.

Any comments and suggestions are welcome !

Kind regards,

-- Leonid Gavrilov
Author of the book "The Biology of Life Span"

Early-Life Predictors of Human Longevity:
Analysis of the 19th Century birth cohorts

Annales de Demographie Historique, 2003, 2: 177-198


The idea of fetal origins of adult degenerative diseases and early-life programming of late-life health and survival is being actively discussed in the scientific literature. This idea is also important for understanding the historical changes in human lifespan through the mechanism of technophysio evolution as suggested by Robert Fogel and Dora Costa. Can this new concept also be useful to understand (at least partially) the observed sex disparities in adult health and longevity? Are the long-lasting effects of early-life conditions identical for both sexes, or, on the contrary, are they sex-specific? These questions stimulated us to conduct the present exploratory study on the sex specificity of late-life health outcomes for early-life effects.

In this study we explored the effects of early-life conditions on adult lifespan of 16,000 individuals (members of European aristocratic families born in 1800-1880) using methodology of historical follow-up study of extinct birth cohorts. Applying method of multivariate regression analysis with nominal predictor variables for individual lifespan as outcome variable, we found that sex differences in adult life span are indeed modulated by early-life events and conditions. Specifically, we found that such variables as (1) month of birth and (2) father's age at person's conception have statistically significant effects on adult lifespan (life expectancy at age 30) in females, but not in males. Female lifespan has bimodal distribution according to the month of birth (M-shaped curve), while male lifespan is less affected by the season of birth in our historical dataset. Similar M-shaped pattern of month-of-birth effects on adult lifespan was observed for females born in 1855-1880. Daughters born to old fathers (above 45 years) live significantly shorter lives, while sons are less affected by paternal age at conception. Death of siblings during childhood (often used as a proxy for childhood infections in family) had significant negative impact on adult lifespan of males and females for more recent birth cohorts (1855-1880), indicating possible increased selectivity of early mortality. The findings of this study provide scientific justification for the need of further more detailed studies on early-life programming of adult lifespan


Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150