I am a researcher at the Departmen of Public Health Sciences. My research covers social inequalites in health, health behaviors, social inequalities during the coronavirus pandemic and health in migrant populations.
A selection from Stockholm University publication database
Excess Mortality by Individual and Spousal Education for Recent and Long-Term Widowed
2022. Olof Östergren, Stefan Fors, Johan Rehnberg. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences 77 (5), 946-955Article
The loss of a spouse is followed by a dramatic but short-lived increase in the mortality risk of the survivor. Contrary to expectations, several studies have found this increase to be larger among those with high education. Having a spouse with high education is associated with lower mortality, which suggests that losing a spouse with high education means the loss of a stronger protective factor than losing a spouse with low education. This may disproportionately affect the high educated because of educational homogamy.
We use Swedish total population registers to construct an open cohort of 1,842,487 married individuals aged 60–89 during 2007–2016, observing 239,276 transitions into widowhood and 277,946 deaths. We use Poisson regression to estimate relative and absolute mortality risks by own and spousal education among the married and recent and long-term widows.
We find an absolute increase in mortality risk, concentrated to the first 6 months of widowhood across all educational strata. The relative increase in mortality risk is larger in higher educational strata. Losing a spouse with high education is associated with higher excess mortality, which attenuates this difference.
When considering the timing and the absolute level of excess mortality, we find that the overall patterns of excess mortality are similar across educational strata. We argue that widowhood has a dramatic impact on health, regardless of education.
Pathways from Childhood Economic Conditions to Adult Mortality in a 1953 Stockholm Cohort: The Intermediate Role of Personal Attributes and Socioeconomic Career
2022. Klara Gurzo (et al.). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19 (12)Article
Although both childhood and adult economic conditions have been found to be associated with mortality, independently or in combination with each other, less is known about the role of intermediate factors between these two life stages. This study explores the pathways between childhood economic conditions and adult mortality by taking personal attributes as well as adult socioeconomic career into consideration. Further, we investigate the role of intergenerational income mobility for adult mortality. We used data from a prospective cohort study of individuals that were born in 1953 and residing in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1963 who were followed for mortality between 2002 and 2021 (n = 11,325). We fit Cox proportional hazards models to assess the association of parental income, cognitive ability, social skills, educational attainment, occupational status, and adult income with mortality. The income mobility is operationalized as the interaction between parental and adult income. Our results show that the association between parental income and adult mortality is modest and largely operates through cognitive ability and adult educational attainment. However, our results do not provide support for there being an effect of intergenerational income mobility on adult mortality. In a Swedish cohort who grew up in a comparatively egalitarian society during the 1950s and 1960s, childhood economic conditions were found to play a distinct but relatively small role for later mortality.
The contribution of alcohol-related deaths to the life-expectancy gap between people with and without depression - a cross-country comparison
2022. Heta Moustgaard (et al.). Drug And Alcohol Dependence 238Article
Background: Alcohol-related deaths may be among the most important reasons for the shorter life expectancy of people with depression, yet no study has quantified their contribution. We quantify the contribution of alcoholrelated deaths to the life-expectancy gap in depression in four European countries with differing levels of alcoholrelated mortality.
Methods: We used cohort data linking population registers with health-care and death records from Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Turin, Italy, in 1993-2007 (210,412,097 person years, 3046,754 deaths). We identified psychiatric inpatients with depression from hospital discharge registers in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden and outpatients with antidepressant prescriptions from prescription registers in Finland and Turin. We assessed alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related deaths using both underlying and contributory causes of death, stratified by sex, age and depression status. We quantified the contribution of alcohol-related deaths by cause-of-death decomposition of the life-expectancy gap at age 25 between people with and without depression.
Results: The gap in life expectancy was 13.1-18.6 years between people with and without inpatient treatment for depression and 6.7-9.1 years between those with and without antidepressant treatment. The contribution of alcohol-related deaths to the life-expectancy gap was larger in Denmark (33.6%) and Finland (18.1-30.5%) - i.e., countries with high overall alcohol-related mortality - than in Sweden (11.9%) and Turin (3.2%), and larger among men in all countries. The life-expectancy gap due to other than alcohol-related deaths varied little across countries.
Conclusions: Alcohol contributes heavily to the lower life expectancy in depression particularly among men and in countries with high overall alcohol-related mortality.
Home and away: mortality among Finnish-born migrants in Sweden compared to native Swedes and Finns residing in Finland
2021. Olof Östergren (et al.). European Journal of Public Health 31 (2), 321-325Article
Background: Most first-generation migrants have lower mortality compared to the native population. Finnish-born migrants in Sweden instead have higher mortality; possibly because of health behaviours established before migration. To increase our understanding of this excess mortality, we compared the cause-specific mortality of Finnish migrants in Sweden to both the native population of Sweden and the native Finnish population residing in Finland.
Methods: We used Swedish and Finnish register data, applying propensity score matching techniques to account for differences in sociodemographic characteristics between the migrants, Swedes and Finns. The index population were Finnish migrants aged 40–60, residing in Sweden in 1995. We compared patterns of all-cause, alcohol- and smoking-related, and cardiovascular disease mortality across the groups in the period 1996–2007.
Results: Finnish migrant men in Sweden had lower all-cause mortality compared to Finnish men but higher mortality compared to the Swedish men. The same patterns were observed for alcohol-related, smoking-related and cardiovascular disease mortality. Among women, all three groups had similar levels of all-cause mortality. However, Finnish migrant women had higher alcohol-related mortality than Swedish women, similar to Finnish women. Conversely, migrant women had similar levels of smoking-related mortality to Swedish women, lower than Finnish women.
Conclusions: Finnish-born migrants residing in Sweden have mortality patterns that are typically in between the mortality patterns of the native populations in their country of origin and destination. Both the country of origin and destination need to be considered in order to better understand migrant health.
Interdependent pathways between socioeconomic position and health: A Swedish longitudinal register-based study
2021. Johan Rehnberg (et al.). Social Science and Medicine 280Article
Health inequalities are generated by the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. From a life-course perspective, these conditions are formed by complex causal relationships with mutual and intertwined paths between socioeconomic position and health. This study attempts to disentangle some of these processes by examining pathways between socioeconomic position and health across the life-course. We used yearly Swedish national register data with information from over 31 years for two cohorts born 1941-1945 and 1961-1965. We analyzed associations between several indicators of childhood and adult socioeconomic position and health, measured by number of in-patient hospitalizations. We estimated within- and between-person associations using random intercept cross-lagged panel models. The results showed bi-directional associations between socioeconomic position and health that varied in strength across the life-course. Age variations in the associations were primarily observed when individuals aged into or out of age-stratified institutions. In ages where transitions from education to the labor market are common, the associations from health to income and education were strong. Around and after retirement age, the between-person association from health to income was weak, while the association from income to health strengthened. Within-person estimates showed no association between income and subsequent hospitalization among older persons, indicating no direct causal effect of income change on health in this age group. For persons of middle age, the associations were of similar strength in both directions and present at both the between- and within-person level. Our findings highlight the importance of theoretical frameworks and methods that can incorporate the interplay between social, economic, and biological processes over the life-course in order to understand how health inequalities are generated.
The social gradient in smoking: individual behaviour, norms and nicotine dependence in the later stages of the cigarette epidemic
2021. Olof Östergren. Social Theory & HealthArticle
The cigarette epidemic tends to develop in a similar pattern across diverse populations in different parts of the world. First, the prevalence of smoking increases, then it plateaus and finally it declines. The decline in smoking prevalence tends to be more pronounced in higher social strata. The later stages of the cigarette epidemic are characterized by emerging and persisting socioeconomic gradients in smoking. Due to its detrimental health consequences, smoking has been the subject of extensive research in a broad range of academic disciplines. I draw on literature from both the social and medical sciences in order to develop a model in which physiological nicotine dependence, individual smoking behaviour and norms surrounding smoking in the immediate social environment are related through reflexive processes. I argue that the emergence and persistence of social gradients in smoking at the later stages of the cigarette epidemic can be attributed to a combination of the pharmacological properties of nicotine, network homophily and the unequal distribution of material and non-material resources across social strata.
The contribution of smoking-related deaths to the gender gap in life expectancy in Sweden between 1997 and 2016
2020. Olof Östergren, Martikainen Pekka. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 48 (3), 346-349Article
Aims: In recent decades, smoking-related mortality has declined among men and increased among women in Sweden. We estimate the contribution of smoking-related deaths to the narrowing of the gender gap in life expectancy in Sweden between 1997 and 2016.
Methods: We extracted population data on deaths and population under risk on the entire Swedish population aged 25 years and over for the period 1997–2016. Smoking-related mortality was assessed using an indirect method based on lung cancer mortality. We then estimated the contribution of smoking to the gender gap in life expectancy by comparing the observed life expectancies to life expectancies excluding smoking-related deaths.
Results: The gender gap in life expectancy was 5.0 years in 1997 and 3.4 years in 2016. The gender gap narrowed by 1.6 years, of which 0.6 years were attributable to smoking-related deaths.
Conclusions: The combination of decreasing smoking-related mortality among men and increasing smoking-related mortality among women in Sweden accounted for almost 40% of the narrowing of the gender gap in life expectancy during the period 1997–2016.
Educational expansion and inequalities in mortality — A fixed-effects analysis using longitudinal data from 18 European populations
2017. Olof Östergren (et al.). PLoS ONE 12 (8)Article
The aim of this paper is to empirically evaluate whether widening educational inequalities in mortality are related to the substantive shifts that have occurred in the educational distribution.
Materials and methods
Data on education and mortality from 18 European populations across several decades were collected and harmonized as part of the Demetriq project. Using a fixed-effects approach to account for time trends and national variation in mortality, we formally test whether the magnitude of relative inequalities in mortality by education is associated with the gender and age-group specific proportion of high and low educated respectively.
The results suggest that in populations with larger proportions of high educated and smaller proportions of low educated, the excess mortality among intermediate and low educated is larger, all other things being equal.
We conclude that the widening educational inequalities in mortality being observed in recent decades may in part be attributed to educational expansion.
The contribution of alcohol consumption and smoking to educational inequalities in life expectancy among Swedish men and women during 1991–2008
2018. Olof Östergren, Pekka Martikainen, Olle Lundberg. International Journal of Public Health 63 (1), 41-48Article
To assess the level and changes in contribution of smoking and alcohol-related mortality to educational differences in life expectancy in Sweden.
We used register data on the Swedish population at ages 30–74 during 1991–2008. Cause of death was used to identify alcohol-related deaths, while smoking-related mortality was estimated using lung cancer mortality to indirectly assess the impact of smoking on all-cause mortality.
Alcohol consumption and smoking contributed to educational differences in life expectancy. Alcohol-related mortality was higher among men and contributed substantially to inequalities among men and made a small (but increasing) contribution to inequalities among women. Smoking-related mortality decreased among men but increased among women, primarily among the low educated. At the end of the follow-up, smoking-related mortality were at similar levels among men and women. The widening gap in life expectancy among women could largely be attributed to smoking.
Smoking and alcohol consumption contribute to educational differences in life expectancy among men and women. The majority of the widening in the educational gap in mortality among women can be attributed to alcohol and smoking-related mortality.
Understanding the Educational Gradient in Mortality
2017. Olof Östergren, Olle Lundberg, Richard Layte.Thesis (Doc)
There is a positive association between education and longevity. Individuals with a university degree tend to live longer than high school graduates who, in turn, live longer than those with compulsory education. These differences are neither larger nor smaller in Sweden than in other European countries, despite its ambitious welfare-state policies. Furthermore, educational differences in longevity are growing, especially among women.
In this thesis I look at the structural, individual and behavioral processes which generate and maintain the educational gradient in mortality. This is done by compiling theoretical insights and empirical research from a range of scientific disciplines. In doing so, this thesis aims to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the educational gradient in mortality.
Several factors contribute to the association between education and health. Social and biological processes initiated in early life influence both educational achievement and adult health. Education helps individuals become more effective as agents by fostering generic skills such as information-gathering and decision-making. This aspect of education, learned effectiveness, promotes control and health regardless of available resources and prevailing conditions. Education thus has a direct influence on health. Education also indirectly influences health by giving access to better occupational positions and higher incomes, as well as by promoting social capital and healthy habits.
The empirical section of the thesis consists of four separate quantitative studies using register data. Three of the studies use Swedish national register data while one uses register data from 18 European populations. The results indicate that widening income inequalities in mortality have contributed to a widening of educational inequalities in mortality, since education is a determinant of income. Both alcohol and smoking contribute to educational inequalities in longevity, but smoking has played an especially pronounced role in the widening of inequalities among women. Smoking represents a significant part of the explanation as to why women with low education have experienced smaller gains in life expectancy than the rest of the population. The results also indicate that the general trend towards more well-educated populations has contributed to the widening educational inequalities in mortality in Europe and that education is a stronger predictor of mortality among low income-earners than among the rest of the population.
Show all publications by Olof Östergren at Stockholm University