Why do poor people behave poorly? Variation in adult health behaviours and psychosocial characteristics by stages of the socioeconomic lifecourse

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Mar;44(6):809-19. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(96)00191-8.


Attempts to explain socioeconomic inequalities in health have often made reference to the observation that poor health behaviours and psychosocial characteristics cluster in low socioeconomic status (SES) groups. Causal interpretation of the association between SES, health behaviour, psychosocial orientations, and health inequalities has been hampered because these factors and SES have usually been measured at the same point in time. Data from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study were used to examine the associations between measures of SES reflecting different stages of the lifecourse, health behaviours, and psychosocial characteristics in adulthood in a population-based study of 2674 middle-aged Finnish men. Results show that many adult behaviours and psychosocial dispositions detrimental to health are consistently related to poor childhood conditions, low levels of education, and blue-collar employment. Poor adult health behaviours and psychosocial characteristics were more prevalent among men whose parents were poor. Increases in income inequality which place children into low SES conditions may well produce a negative behavioural and psychosocial health dividend to be reaped in the future. Understanding that adult health behaviour and psychosocial orientations are associated with socioeconomic conditions throughout the lifecourse implies that efforts to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in health must recognize that economic policy is public health policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Finland
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty*
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors