This review aims at identifying gaps in knowledge on socioeconomic gradients in mortality in the oldest old. The authors review literature on oldest old population with a focus on unanswered questions: do socioeconomic status (SES) gradients in mortality persist after 80; does the magnitude of the gradient change as compared with younger populations; which socioeconomic/socio-demographic determinants should be used in this population with specific characteristics (e.g., with respect to sex ratio and household type)? Results are often inconsistent while conclusions drawn by selected studies are generally limited by the difficulty of disentangling the effects of age and cohort, and of generalizing results observed in preponderantly small, selected samples (which typically exclude institutionalized persons). Future research should explore the effects of socio-demographic indicators other than education and social class (e.g., marital status, loss of the partner) and adequately differentiate the social position of oldest old women. The authors recommend that research applies a life-course perspective combined with an interdisciplinary perspective to improve our understanding of the SES gradients in later life. Research is needed to elucidate which causal pathways depending on SES in younger age impact on mortality in higher ages up to oldest old.
Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.