Historical migration and contemporary health

Thomas Barnebeck Andersen, Carl-Johan Lars Dalgaard, Christian Volmar Skovsgaard, Pablo Selaya

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


We argue that migration during the last 500 years induced differences in contemporary health outcomes. The theory behind our analysis builds on three physiological facts. First, vitamin D deficiency is directly associated with higher risk of all-cause mortality. Second, the ability of humans to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight (UV-R) declines with skin pigmentation. Third, skin pigmentation is the result of an evolutionary compromise between higher risk of vitamin D deficiency and lower risk of skin cancer. When individuals from high UV-R regions migrate to low UV-R regions, the risk of vitamin D deficiency rises markedly. We develop a measure that allows us to empirically explore the aggregate health consequences of such migration in a long historical perspective. We find that the potential risk of vitamin D deficiency induced by migration during the last half millennium is a robust predictor of present-day aggregate health indicators.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOxford Economic Papers
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)955-981
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


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