A strong cross-sectional relationship between health and socioeconomic status is firmly established. This paper adopts a life cycle perspective to investigate whether the socioeconomically disadvantaged, on top of a lower health level, experience a sharper deterioration of health over time. Data are drawn from the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) Health Interview Surveys covering the period 1983-2000. The analysis focuses on the self-rated health and disability of persons aged 16-80. We show that in the Netherlands, as in the US, the socioeconomic gradient in health widens until late-middle age and narrows thereafter. The analysis and the available evidence suggests that the widening gradient is attributable both to health-related withdrawal from the labor force, resulting in lower incomes, and the cumulative protective effect of education on health outcomes. The less educated appear to suffer a double health penalty in that they begin adult life with a slightly lower health level, which subsequently declines at a faster rate.
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