Forced migration at childhood: are there long-term health effects?

Jan M. Saarela, University of Helsinki and Åbo Akademi University
Irma T. Elo, University of Pennsylvania

Population mobility is among the leading policy issues of the 21st century. An estimated one billion persons are on the move internationally or within their own country. Attention to the health of migrants, and particularly the long-term health effects associated with forced migration, is nevertheless limited. Finland provides an unusual opportunity to study long-term health effects associated with forced migration. During the WWII period, twelve per cent of the population was forced to leave the region nowadays referred to as Ceded Karelia. After the war, these Karelians could not return home because the area was relinquished to the Soviet Union. Since all families left the area and settled in other parts of Finland with the assistance of the Finnish government, the setting provides a natural experiment to study long-term health effects associated with forced migration. We study people who were forced to migrate as children, and compare them with non-displaced persons born on the adjacent side of the new border, and with those born elsewhere in Finland. The data cover the period 1988-2012. Long-term health is proxied by three different outcomes: receipt of sickness benefit, receipt of disability pension, and death from six main causes. We estimate logistic regression models to study the odds of receiving sickness benefit and disability pension, respectively, and hazard models to estimate the mortality risk. Our explanatory variables, which are allowed to vary on an annual basis, include age, period, level of education, homeownership, income quintile, region of residence, and family situation. The latter combines information about marital status and whether or not a person lives alone. We find no strong support for the argument that being forced to migrate would have any long-term malicious health effects. One reason might be that these migrants seem to have integrated well into post-war Finnish society.

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 Presented in Session 90. Integration challenges of forced migration