European Journal of Population / Revue Européenne de Démographie
This paper analyzes the quality of subjective assessments related to childhood circumstances when provided by old-age individuals. Early life events are important for social scientists to predict individual outcomes later in life and because of data restrictions, retrospective assessments are often used. Nevertheless, there is widespread skepticism on the ability of old-age respondents to recall with good accuracy events occurred many years ago. Using data from the survey of health, aging and retirement in Europe (SHARE), we assess the internal and external consistency of some measures of childhood health and socio-economic status. Our study suggests that overall respondents seem to remember fairly well their health status and their living conditions between age 0–15. Applying a cross-country comparison (13 European countries), we analyse within survey responses with external historical data (e.g., GDP per capita in period 1926–1956) at a country and cohort level. Our results should mitigate some of the doubts on retrospective data collection and promote their use for research purposes.