Longevity of Estonian Volunteers in the Finnish Army: A 72-Year Follow-up Study of the Impact of Post-War Life Course and repressions.

Lauri Leppik, Tallinn University, Estonian Institute of Population Studies
Allan Puur, Estonian Institute for Population Studies, Tallinn University


Longevity of the Estonian volunteers in the Finnish Army: a 72-year follow-up study of the impact of post-war life course and repressions

The Second World War included two episodes of military aggression against Finland: the Winter War (1939–1940) and the Continuation War (1941–1944). In both cases, the Finnish Army included groups of volunteers from neighboring countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Estonia). The total number of Estonian volunteers in the Finnish Army over the period 1939–1944 exceeds 3300 men, more than three quarters of them born 1918–1926. These volunteers either did not fall under the Soviet and German mobilizations or had chosen to escape these by joining the Finnish Army.
Benefitting from a unique database which includes socio-demographic data and longitudinal life histories of these men over a 72-year period since May 1945, we analyse the longevity of this group of war veterans. The war and its aftermath divided this category of men into four distinct subgroups creating a situation resembling a natural experiment: 11% were killed during the war, 38% escaped to exile after the war and lived their lives in Western countries (mainly Sweden, Canada and USA), 18% were severely repressed by the Soviet regime, being executed, sentenced into prison or forced labor camps (of them one fifth died as a direct result of repressions), 29% lived in Soviet Estonia without being repressed. Crucial follow-up data was missing only for 4% of the total cohort. As of early 2017, another 4% of the men were still alive, all being over 90 years old.
In the analysis we focus at differentials in longevity across the subgroups – what is the role of the post-war life course and macrosocial environment on longevity of former war veterans, and more specifically what was the impact of the Soviet regime and repressions. As the key control variables we use place of birth, age at the onset of the follow-up period, military rank in the Finnish Army, education, occupation, participation in battles and acquisition of war injuries. Beyond descriptive statistics we use Cox regression model to assess the effect of post-war life course on longevity. Based on the inter-group differentials, we also attempt to estimate the years of life lost due to Soviet regime.
We observe significant differences in survival and the average lifespan across the subgroups (Figure 1). Men who escaped to Western countries lived longest, outliving the group of repressed men on average by 11 years. In addition to the immediate effect, the impact of repressions is manifested in elevated mortality risks of survivors of repressions during several decades after the end of Stalin’s rule (Figure 2). The results also reveal a general negative impact of the Soviet regime on longevity, reflected in excess mortality of those who lived in Soviet Estonia relative to those who lived in Western countries. The comparison of mortality patterns of these two subgroups indicates a cumulative effect of risk factors arising from the Soviet regime: the excess mortality emerged not immediately after the war, but in older ages after the age of 60.
The results of the analysis are discussed against the findings of earlier studies on longevity of war veterans, including the observed phenomena of selective mortality.

Figure 1. Proportion of survivors among Estonian volunteers to Finnish Army, 1945–2016

Figure 2. Probability of death among Estonian volunteers to Finnish Army, 1945–2016

Presented in Session 1061: History