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Tracing the origins of successful aging: The role of childhood conditions and social inequality in explaining later life health

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  • Brandt, Martina
  • Deindl, Christian
  • Hank, Karsten

Abstract

This study investigates the role of childhood conditions and social inequality in older Europeans' propensity to age successfully, controlling for later life risk factors. Successful aging was assessed following Rowe and Kahn's conceptualization, using baseline interviews from the first two waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). These data were merged with retrospective information on participants from 13 Continental European countries, collected as part of the SHARELIFE project. Our sample consists of 22,464 men and women, who are representative of the non-institutionalized population aged 50 or older (mean age: 63.3) in their respective country. Estimating multilevel logistic models, we controlled for demographics (age, sex), childhood conditions (SES, health, cognition), later life risk factors (various dimensions of SES and health behaviors), as well as social inequality (measured by country-specific Gini coefficients). There is an independent association of childhood living conditions with elders' odds of aging well. Higher parental SES, better math and reading skills, as well as self-reports of good childhood health were positively associated with successful aging, even if contemporary characteristics were controlled for. Later life SES and health behaviors exhibited the expected correlations with our dependent variable. Moreover, lower levels of income inequality were associated with a greater probability of meeting Rowe and Kahn's successful aging criteria. We conclude that unfavorable childhood conditions exhibit a harmful influence on individuals' chances to age well across all European welfare states considered in this study. Policy interventions should thus aim at improving the conditions for successful aging throughout the entire life course.

Suggested Citation

  • Brandt, Martina & Deindl, Christian & Hank, Karsten, 2012. "Tracing the origins of successful aging: The role of childhood conditions and social inequality in explaining later life health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(9), pages 1418-1425.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:74:y:2012:i:9:p:1418-1425
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.01.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Di Gessa, Giorgio & Glaser, Karen & Tinker, Anthea, 2016. "The impact of caring for grandchildren on the health of grandparents in Europe: A lifecourse approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 166-175.
    2. Schaan, Barbara, 2014. "The interaction of family background and personal education on depressive symptoms in later life," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 94-102.
    3. Thomas Leoni, 2016. "Social investment: A guiding principle for welfare state adjustment after the crisis?," Empirica, Springer;Austrian Institute for Economic Research;Austrian Economic Association, vol. 43(4), pages 831-858, November.
    4. Thomas Leoni & Rainer Eppel, 2013. "Women's Work and Family Profiles over the Lifecourse and their Subsequent Health Outcomes. Evidence for Europe," WWWforEurope Working Papers series 28, WWWforEurope.
    5. Anna Zajacova & Katrina Walsemann & Jennifer Dowd, 2015. "The Long Arm of Adolescent Health Among Men and Women: Does Attained Status Explain Its Association with Mid-Adulthood Health?," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 34(1), pages 19-48, February.
    6. repec:wfo:wstudy:46889 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Sarah Gibney & Mark E. McGovern & Erika Sabbath, 2013. "Social Relationships in Later Life: The Role of Childhood Circumstances," Working Papers 201319, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    8. Adena, Maja & Myck, Michal, 2014. "Poverty and transitions in health in later life," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 202-210.
    9. repec:wfo:wstudy:57899 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Thomas Leoni, 2015. "Welfare state adjustment to new social risks in the post-crisis scenario. A review with focus on the social investment perspective," WWWforEurope Working Papers series 89, WWWforEurope.
    11. Angelini, Viola & Mierau, Jochen O., 2014. "Born at the right time? Childhood health and the business cycle," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 35-43.

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