"What appears to be essential in the long term in terms of economic growth was not whether countries were on the winning or losing side of the war, but whether they were able eventually to transit to democracy and open-market economies," Smith said.
People were more likely to report health problems and lower wealth in their older ages if they were from families in the middle or lower economic classes during the war, with the association strongest among those who belonged to the middle class.
While respondents from regions with heavy combat action were showing adverse long-term effects, those were not much stronger than for respondents who experienced war, but who did not directly experience heavy combat action in their region.
Instead, poor mental and physical health later in life appears to be linked to lower education, changing gender ratios caused by high rates of deaths among men, wartime hunger and long-term stress leading to adult depression and lower marriage rates. The one notable exception is depression, which is significantly higher for those respondents who lived in regions with heavy combat action.
"War has many noticeable consequences, but it also takes a toll on the health and well-being of survivors over the course of their lives," Kesternich said.
"It is important that we seek out this sort of information from the survivors of battle so we can better understand this long-term suffering," added Siflinger.
"Looking only at the costs of war during a war or immediately afterwards significantly understates the complete costs of war," Smith concluded.
Support for the study was provided by the DFG, the German Research Foundation, and Division of Social and Behavioral Research (BSR) of the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
The RAND Labor and Population program examines issues involving U.S. labor markets, the demographics of families and children, policies to improve socio-economic wellbeing, the social and economic functioning of the elderly, and economic and social change in developing countries.
Source: RAND Corporation