Many studies report few socioeconomic (SES) differences in health in youth, a pattern contrasting with that of health inequalities in childhood and adulthood. This paper focuses on the child-youth transition to examine the hypothesis of equalisation in health over this period. Specifically, we test two hypotheses: (a) that equalisation is more likely for health state measures (physical and malaise symptoms and accidents) than health status ([limiting] longstanding illness and self-rated health) or health potential (height), and (b) that the patterning of health over this period is similar between occupational (social class) and non-occupational (deprivation, housing tenure and family affluence) SES measures. Data are derived from the West of Scotland 11 to 16 cohort, followed from late childhood (aged 11) through early (13) to mid (15) adolescence. The results showed very little evidence of SES differences in (limiting) longstanding illness at any age for both sexes, while self-rated health exhibited some differentiation, and height (as expected) consistent gradients throughout. By contrast, among males evidence of equalisation was found for both physical and malaise symptoms and pedestrian road traffic accidents (RTAs). Among females, equalisation was confined to specific physical symptoms, pedestrian RTAs, sports injuries and burns/scalds, while for malaise symptoms a reverse gradient at age 11 strengthened with age. These patterns were generally unaffected by the SES measure used. We conclude that while some of the evidence is consistent with the equalisation hypothesis, it needs extending to accommodate patterns of no SES differences, and particularly reverse gradients, in childhood. These patterns may reflect the increasingly pervasive influence of youth culture, suggesting that in the UK the boundary between childhood and youth should be set at an earlier age. This in turn suggests that international comparisons have considerable analytic potential for identifying the conditions under which equalisation does and does not occur.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd.