Background: whether socioeconomic position over the life course influences the wellbeing of older people similarly in different societies is not known.
Objective: to investigate the magnitude of socioeconomic inequalities in life satisfaction among individuals in early old age and the influence of the welfare state regime on the associations.
Design: comparative study using data from Wave 2 and SHARELIFE, the retrospective Wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), collected during 2006-07 and 2008-09, respectively.
Setting: thirteen European countries representing four welfare regimes (Southern, Scandinavian, Post-communist and Bismarckian).
Subjects: a total of 17,697 individuals aged 50-75 years.
Methods: slope indices of inequality (SIIs) were calculated for the association between life course socioeconomic position (measured by the number of books in childhood, education level and current wealth) and life satisfaction. Single level linear regression models stratified by welfare regime and multilevel regression models, containing interaction terms between socioeconomic position and welfare regime type, were calculated.
Results: socioeconomic inequalities in life satisfaction were present in all welfare regimes. Educational inequalities in life satisfaction were narrowest in Scandinavian and Bismarckian regimes among both genders. Post-communist and Southern countries experienced both lower life satisfaction and larger socioeconomic inequalities in life satisfaction, using most measures of socioeconomic position. Current wealth was associated with large inequalities in life satisfaction across all regimes.
Conclusions: Scandinavian and Bismarckian countries exhibited narrower socioeconomic inequalities in life satisfaction. This suggests that more generous welfare states help to produce a more equitable distribution of wellbeing among older people.
Keywords: ageing; older people; quality of life; satisfaction; socioeconomic factors; welfare.