Is intergenerational social mobility related to the type and amount of physical activity in mid-adulthood? Results from the 1946 British birth cohort study

Ann Epidemiol. 2012 Jul;22(7):487-98. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2012.03.002. Epub 2012 Apr 24.


Purpose: Greater levels of leisure-time or moderate-vigorous physical activity have consistently been found in those with greater socioeconomic position (SEP). Less is known about the effects of intergenerational social mobility.

Methods: We examined the influence of SEP and social mobility on mid-adulthood physical activity in the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development. Two sub-domains of SEP were used: occupational class and educational attainment. Latent classes for walking, cycling, and leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) were used, plus sedentary behavior at age 36. Associations between types of physical activity and SEP were examined with the use of logistic or multinomial logistic regression.

Results: Being a manual worker oneself or having a father who was a manual worker was, relative to nonmanual work, associated with lower levels of sedentary behavior and greater walking activity, but also with lower LTPA. Compared with those who remained in a manual occupational class, upward occupational mobility was associated with more sedentary behavior, less walking, and increased LTPA. Associations with downward mobility were in the opposite directions. Similar results were obtained for educational attainment.

Conclusions: This study found clear evidence of social differences in physical activity. Persistently high SEP and upward social mobility were associated with greater levels of LTPA but also increased sedentary behavior and less walking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Educational Status
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Mobility / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology