Is it possible to overcome the 'long arm' of childhood socioeconomic disadvantage through upward socioeconomic mobility?

J Public Health (Oxf). 2019 Sep 30;41(3):566-574. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdz018.


Objectives: Socioeconomically disadvantaged children have worse adult health; we test if this 'long arm' of childhood disadvantage can be overcome through upward socioeconomic mobility in adulthood.

Methods: Four SES trajectories (stable low, upwardly mobile, downwardly mobile and stable high) were created from median dichotomized childhood socioeconomic status (SES; childhood human and financial capital) and adult SES (wealth at age 67) from Health and Retirement Study respondents (N = 6669). Healthy ageing markers, in tertiles, were walking speed, peak expiratory flow (PEF), and grip strength measured in 2008 and 2010. Multinomial logistic regression models, weighted to be nationally representative, controlled for age, gender, race, birthplace, outcome year and childhood health and social capital.

Results: Upwardly mobile individuals were as likely as the stable high SES group to be in the best health tertile for walking speed (OR = 0.81; 95% CI: 0.63, 1.05; P = 0.114), PEF (OR = 0.97; 95% CI: 0.78, 1.21; P = 0.810) and grip strength (OR = 0.97; 95%CI: 0.74, 1.27; P = 0.980).

Discussion: Findings suggest the 'long arm' of childhood socioeconomic disadvantage can be overcome for these markers of healthy ageing through upward socioeconomic mobility.

Keywords: SES; health disparities; health inequalities; lifecourse; social mobility.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate / physiology*
  • Social Class
  • Social Mobility*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Walking / physiology*