Birth cohort patterns in mortality are often used to infer long-lasting impacts of early life conditions. One of the most widely accepted examples of a birth cohort effect is that of tuberculosis mortality before the late 1940s. However the evidential basis for claims of cohort-specific declines in tuberculosis mortality is very slight. Reanalysis of original or enhanced versions of datasets used previously to support claims of cohort effects in tuberculosis mortality indicated that: 1. where the initial decline in tuberculosis mortality occurred within the period of observation, onset of decline occurred simultaneously in many age groups, in a pattern indicative of 'period' not cohort-dependent effects. 2. there was little evidence of 'proportional hazard'-type cohort patterns in tuberculosis mortality for any female population studied. Therefore any mechanisms proposed to underlie this type of cohort pattern in male mortality must be sex-specific. 3. sex ratios of tuberculosis mortality at older ages peaked in cohorts born around 1900, and resembled cohort sex ratios of lung cancer mortality. This analysis indicates that age-specific patterns in the decline in tuberculosis mortality before 1950 are unlikely to reflect improvements in early life conditions. The patterns observed are generally more consistent with the influence of factors that reduced mortality simultaneously in most age groups. Additional influences, possibly smoking habits, impeded the decline of tuberculosis in older adult males, and produced the sex-specific shifts in age distributions of mortality that were previously interpreted as evidence of cohort-dependent mortality decline.
Davenport, R. J. (2013). Year of birth effects in the historical decline of tuberculosis mortality: A reconsideration. PLoS ONE, 8(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081797