Bad Years to be Born in

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by Pawel Bartoszek

The following chart shows how many eighty-year-olds were alive each year during period 1960-2011 in four medium-sized countries in Central Europe: Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Switzerland. The data comes from Eurostat.

Three of those countries, namely Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, were involved in the big European wars of the 20th century, the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945). Switzerland managed to stay neutral during both conflicts.

You can see a clear dip in the chart during the period 1996-2000, which would correspond to the eighty-year-old Austrians, Czechs, and Hungarians born in the years 1916-1920. It is interesting to see that there is also a clear dip, although definitely a smaller one, in the population of eighty-year-old Swiss during the same period. According to a publication by Swiss Statistics, the outbreak of the First World War caused a decline in both the marriage rate and birth rate in the months to follow. Furthermore, the Spanish flu pandemic (1918-1920) took a serious toll, and the death rate was highest among the youngest children.

To summarize, here are the three most likely explanations as to why there always were so few people born in 1918:

  1. They were less likely to be born in the first place, since people generally have fewer children during wars.
  2. They were more likely to die in the flu pandemic of 1918.
  3. They were in their early twenties during the Second World War, making them more likely to die in the conflict than other age groups.

So, if you know (or ever knew) someone born in the year 1918, you should consider yourself lucky.

Published: 4. Jun. 2012