Why is parental lifespan linked to children's chances of reaching a high age? A transgenerational hypothesis

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Vågerö, Denny ; Aronsson, Vanda ; Modin, Bitte (2017)
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • Journal: SSM - Population Health, volume 4, pages 45-54 (issn: 2352-8273, eissn: 2352-8273)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.11.006, pmc: PMC5769101
  • Subject: Susceptibility | RA1-1270 | Social sciences (General) | H1-99 | Public aspects of medicine | Lifespan | Transgenerational | Longevity | Resilience | Article | Epigenetics

Purpose: Transgenerational determinants of longevity are poorly understood. We used data from four linked generations (G0, G1, G2 and G3) of the Uppsala Birth Cohort Multigeneration Study to address this issue. Methods: Mortality in G1 (N = 9565) was followed from 1961–2015 and analysed in relation to tertiles of their parents’ (G0) age-at-death using Cox regression. Parental social class and marital status were adjusted for in the analyses, as was G1’s birth order and adult social class. For an almost entirely deceased segment of G1 (n = 1149), born 1915–1917, we compared exact age-at-death with G0 parents’ age-at-death. Finally, we explored ‘resilience’ as a potentially important mechanism for intergenerational transmission of longevity, using conscript information from psychological interviews of G2 and G3 men. Results: G0 men’s and women’s ages-at-death were independently associated with G1 midlife and old age mortality. This association was robust and minimally reduced when G0 and G1 social class were adjusted for. We observed an increased lifespan in all social groups. Median difference in age-at-death for sons compared to fathers was + 3.9 years, and + 6.9 years for daughters compared to mothers.Parents’ and maternal grandmother’s longevity were associated with resilience in subsequent generations. Resilience scores of G2 men were also associated with those of their G3 sons and with their own mortality in midlife. Conclusions: The chance of reaching a high age is transmitted from parents to children in a modest, but robust way. Longevity inheritance is paralleled by the inheritance of individual resilience. Individual resilience, we propose, develops in the first part of life as a response to adversity and early experience in general. This gives rise to a transgenerational pathway, distinct from social class trajectories. A theory of longevity inheritance should bring together previous thinking around general susceptibility, frailty and resilience with new insights from epigenetics and social epidemiology. Keywords: Longevity, Lifespan, Resilience, Susceptibility, Transgenerational, Epigenetics
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