Dondena Interviews

Enkelejda Havari of Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia spoke to Dondena in March about her recent study of Europeans aged 50-plus and the lasting impacts of hardship episodes they suffered as children. The main motivation of the paper, she says, is to learn things that could help war-torn regions now. Because the hardships children suffered during World War II are uncomfortably parallel to those many children still suffer today.


Summarize for us the talk you’re giving today.

In this paper we analyze whether being exposed to hardship episodes during childhood can have a direct impact on health and socio-economic status later in life. If you are exposed to a conflict, like a war or domestic violence or famine, that can influence your education, your health, and leave long-lasting effects. They are called ‘scarring effects,’ so somebody experiencing such shocks carry out the negative effects that will be manifested in worse health conditions as they get older.


It seems intuitive that, of course, something like that would have an effect.

The cohorts that we analyze are special, in a way. They are Europeans born between 1930 and 1954, so many of them have experienced World War II and all the related events, and what we see in this paper is that the war might have impacted their socio-economic status through different channels. We find that having been exposed to war makes you more likely to experience hunger compared to those who did not. Think about the Dutch Hunger Winter in 1944-45, which was largely caused by the war events (Audrey Hepburn, the famous actress, lived in the Netherlands during this period, she experienced hunger and later on she had problems with anemia that were in part attributed to having known hunger).

            Epidemiologists and physicians have pointed out that children are more prone to suffer from these episodes, and the negative effects tend to ‘pass through’ health problems—once you have health problems you don’t go to school regularly because you are not able to learn and that influences your socio-economic status later on. Another channel could be school disruption not related to health problems. Because of the bombing in Germany, many of these children were not able to continue school.  

            This is important to study, since we have issues of child hunger and conflict, for instance what’s going on now in Syria, and that would give us some important information about the developing world.

            We know much about the developed world, but this study helps us to see what happened to previous generations, like our grandparents. Since similar events are still present, with our knowledge we can analyze, set up studies, or find plausible policies to limit as much as possible these damages.


There must be parallels, uncomfortable ones, between your research and what’s going on in the world today. Because it’s not a problem we used to have, it’s a problem we still have.

Exactly. That’s the motivation of the paper. I think the most important one. From

a policy perspective it is valuable to analyze the possible channels through which exposure to wars can impair the socio-economic status. Among many channels

such as financial hardship, stress, hunger we find the latter to play a crucial role.


Tell me about the data you used in the paper.

The data we employ are very interesting because they come from the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe, which is a cross-country longitudinal survey covering more than 13 European countries.

            The main objective is to follow over time individuals who are aged 50-plus and analyze aspects of the ageing process, so important for the European context.

            A novelty of this survey compared to others is that together with current information about health, income, and pension plans, they recollect information on individuals’ life-paths from childhood to adulthood— family background at age 10, where they were born, residence transitions (country, region, area), employment spells, etc. In the light of this new literature, what happens to you when you are a child may influence the whole pattern later on, and this data can help you answering to different questions. The dataset covers many countries, so it is also possible to analyze specific issues within each country.


Are many people doing research in this area?

Yes, there is increasing interest in this area of research and in the past decade it has attracted many economists. 

            My background is economics and during the second year of my PhD I ran into this survey. It started in 2004, and many social scientists are now analyzing this type of data, and they come from different backgrounds from gerontology to sociology to economics. We are now constructing this huge database on pension benefits in order to compare institutional reforms across Europe and to see whether there are differences and whether these differences matter for individual decisions. So yes, it’s attracting many scientists from different fields.


It must be exciting to be involved in that, and watch it evolve and change and become important to what’s going on with the ageing of the population and war in certain areas.

Actually, in our paper, we end up with sort of a selected sample because we see also survivors of different tough periods.


What would you like to do next with these data?

This survey has been designed to study the ageing process in Europe, but at the same time it is possible to extend the topics. For instance, I’m looking now at aspects related to intergenerational transmission of human capital, from parents to children. This is a very challenging topic and it is interesting to see how Europe has changed in the past 50 years.


You leave Milano today, and what’s the next exciting academic event on your calendar?

I will come back to Milan, to (Università degli Studi di Milano) Bicocca by the end of May, and I’m going to present a new paper about intergenerational mobility.


Seems like a wonderful time in your career.

The important thing is to present new ideas, although right after our PhD

many of us tend to present the same topic many times. Perhaps it is more challenging to present a research paper which is incomplete, but you can have a good talk and good suggestions.


Learn more about Enkelejda Havari here. Learn more about the Dondena seminar series here.
















Last updated 10 December 2016 - 05:39:11