Why Is Parental Lifespan Linked to Children’s Chances of Reaching a High Age? A Transgenerational Hypothesis

  • Denny VågeröEmail author
  • Vanda Aronsson
  • Bitte Modin
Part of the Healthy Ageing and Longevity book series (HAL, volume 9)


Transgenerational determinants of longevity are poorly understood. We studied four linked generations (G0, G1, G2 and G3) of the Uppsala Birth Cohort Multigeneration Study to address this issue. Mortality in G1 (N = 9,565) was followed 1961–2015 and analysed by their parents’ (G0) age-at-death using Cox regression. For an almost entirely deceased segment of G1 (n = 1,149), born 1915–1917, we compared exact age-at-death with G0 parents’ age-at-death. Finally, we explored ‘resilience’ as a potential mechanism for intergenerational transmission of longevity, using conscript information from psychological interviews of G2 and G3 men. G0 men’s and women’s ages-at-death were independently associated with G1 midlife and old age mortality. 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. We conclude that chances of reaching a high age are 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 transgenerational pathway is 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.


Uppsala multigeneration study Parental lifespan Transgenerational hypothesis Age-at-death Intergenerational transmission of longevity 



Kristiina Rajaleid and Stefan Fors gave valuable comments. Klara Abrahamsson helped us to collect birth and death data for generation 0.

Ethical Permission

was granted by Stockholm Regional Ethics Board (2015/904-31/5; 2016/933-32).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CHESS, Centre for Health Equity Studies, Department of Public Health SciencesStockholm University/Karolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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