Intergenerational Social Mobility and Health in Later Life: Diagonal Reference Models Applied to the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2022 Dec 29;77(12):2257-2264. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbac107.


Objective: Although commonly used to model associations between intergenerational social mobility and health, linear regression cannot estimate the contributions of origin, destination, and mobility independently. Nonlinear diagonal reference models (DRMs) have become a popular alternative and have been applied to various health outcomes, though few studies examine the impact of social mobility on later-life health.

Methods: This study revisits health outcomes examined in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, using DRMs to assess the association between intergenerational social mobility and satisfaction with life, self-rated health, depression, and mortality from age 68-82 years.

Results: After adjusting for sex, age, education, and childhood cognitive ability, there was no evidence of an association between intergenerational social mobility and later-life health; participants experiencing upward or downward mobility had similar odds of poor health outcomes as non-mobile participants. However, those from higher occupational social classes exhibited lower odds of mortality (p = .01), with a stronger contribution of adult (own) than of childhood (father's) social class (weights = 0.75 vs. 0.25). No other outcomes demonstrated significant associations with socioeconomic position.

Discussion: This adds to evidence that social mobility does not influence variation in later-life health once other factors-including socioeconomic origins and destinations-are accounted for.

Keywords: Diagonal reference model; Health; SES; Social mobility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Birth Cohort*
  • Educational Status
  • Humans
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Social Class
  • Social Mobility*