Understanding the Connection Between Health Issues and Societal Outcomes

Scientific research can uncover surprising connections between health conditions and broader societal issues. A recently published doctoral thesis by IIES graduate student, Evelina Linnros, delves into the complex ways health issues influence everything from marriage to earnings, and how mental health and nutritional status is affected by prenatal conditions.


Infertility risk is linked to early marriages in Madagascar

In some developing countries, high infertility rates can have significant societal repercussions. In Madagascar, Evelina has studied how the risk of infertility might push people towards early marriage and childbearing. The focus is on a parasite called schistosomiasis, which has two strains with similar transmission methods and health effects, except one causes infertility. Women exposed to the infertility-causing strain are 40% more likely to be infertile. This exposure increases the probability of child marriage and early fertility by 22%. Essentially, infertility risk can cause some women to marry and have children younger, hoping to achieve their fertility goals.


Severe birth tears: maternal health affects the post-childbirth earnings loss 

Childbirth can have lasting effects on a mother's health, particularly when severe injuries occur. About 5% of first-time mothers who deliver vaginally suffer from severe birth tears, significantly affecting their long-term health and quality of life. In this paper, Evelina finds that these injuries lead to a 6% greater earnings loss in the first five years after childbirth compared to mothers who didn't experience such injuries. The impact is more pronounced for mothers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who also tend to seek less medical care post-injury.


Prenatal exposure to increased alcohol availability leads to long lasting effects on mental health 

A sharp increase in alcohol availability during an 8.5-month policy experiment had profound long-term effects on individuals exposed to the policy in utero. Evelina examined healthcare and drug prescription records to assess mental health outcomes in midlife for those exposed to this policy. The findings reveal that these individuals are 16% more likely to be treated for a mental health disorder. The risk is highest for those exposed during the second trimester of pregnancy. The effect on mental health is only partially explained by the lower earnings among the exposed individuals. This chapter highlights how prenatal conditions can have lasting mental health repercussions.


Exposure to locust swarms during the prenatal period increases the risk of child stunting

Monitoring systems play a crucial role in detecting early signs of potential disasters, such as pest outbreaks. Desert locusts, known for their ability to destroy entire fields of crops, are one such threat. In this chapter, Evelina evaluates the economic value of monitoring systems for these pests, particularly in regions where monitoring is inconsistent due to conflict or weather. By studying interruptions in monitoring and their effects on locust swarms she was able to trace the migration patterns and subsequent impacts on agriculture. She finds that exposure to a locust swarm in utero increases the likelihood of stunting in children by 16%. These findings underscore the importance of maintaining robust monitoring systems to prevent agricultural losses and protect human health.

This thesis sheds light on the intricate ways health issues, societal outcomes and environmental conditions are intertwined. From the implications of infertility risk on marriage practices to the long-term mental health effects of prenatal conditions and the importance of maintaining pest monitoring systems for child health, understanding these connections can inform better policy and healthcare decisions, ultimately improving lives across the globe.

The thesis “Essays on Fertility and Health” can be downloaded and read in its entirety at DiVA:

Click here to download and read 

Evelina will defend her thesis on 14 June at 9.00 am.

Click here for more information on the defense