European Journal of Population

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 233–257 | Cite as

Can We Trust Older People’s Statements on Their Childhood Circumstances? Evidence from SHARELIFE

  • Enkelejda Havari
  • Fabrizio MazzonnaEmail author


This paper analyzes the quality of subjective assessments related to childhood circumstances when provided by old-age individuals. Early life events are important for social scientists to predict individual outcomes later in life and because of data restrictions, retrospective assessments are often used. Nevertheless, there is widespread skepticism on the ability of old-age respondents to recall with good accuracy events occurred many years ago. Using data from the survey of health, aging and retirement in Europe (SHARE), we assess the internal and external consistency of some measures of childhood health and socio-economic status. Our study suggests that overall respondents seem to remember fairly well their health status and their living conditions between age 0–15. Applying a cross-country comparison (13 European countries), we analyse within survey responses with external historical data (e.g., GDP per capita in period 1926–1956) at a country and cohort level. Our results should mitigate some of the doubts on retrospective data collection and promote their use for research purposes.


Childhood Europe Health Retrospective data  SHARE survey 



This paper uses data from SHARE release 2.3.1. SHARE data collection in 2004–2007 was primarily funded by the European Commission through its 5th and 6th framework programmes (project numbers QLK6-CT-2001- 00360; RII-CT- 2006-062193; CIT5-CT-2005-028857). Additional funding by the US National Institute on Aging (Grant No. U01 AG09740-13S2; P01 AG005842; P01 AG08291; P30 AG12815; Y1-AG-4553-01; OGHA 04-064; R21 AG025169) as well as by various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (see for a full list of funding institutions).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Commission - Joint Research CentreIspraItaly
  2. 2.Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI)LuganoSwitzerland
  3. 3.Munich Center for the Economic of Ageing (MEA)MunichGermany

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