Background: The aim of the study was to investigate the impact of parental socioeconomic status (SES) on subjects' well-being and health behaviour in adolescence, early adulthood and adulthood, and whether these impacts remained after controlling for the person's own SES.
Methods: All 16-year-old ninth-grade school pupils of one Finnish city completed questionnaires at school. Subjects were followed up using postal questionnaires when aged 22 and 32 years.
Results: Females of manual class origin had lower self-esteem and more distress symptoms from adolescence to adulthood than those from a non-manual background. Lower self-esteem was found among males from manual class families in adolescence and early adulthood. In both genders, no significant class differences were found in depression, health status or prevalence of chronic illness. Unhealthier behaviours regarding smoking and physical activity were more prevalent among both genders of manual class origin, and females of this group had higher rates of overweight and higher body mass index scores. After controlling for the person's own SES, the effect of parental SES diminished but remained significant for smoking in both genders and for physical activity in males up to 22 years, and for self-esteem and BMI in females up to 32.
Conclusions: This follow-up study contributes to the health inequality debate investigating parental SES differences in health behaviour and somatic health, and particularly in psychological health, which is relatively rarely investigated. The results indicate that parental SES has effects on early adult and adult well-being and health behaviour other than those mediated by current SES.