Trajectories of Functional Health

The 'Long Arm' of Childhood Health and Socioeconomic Factors

Health status and socioeconomic status (SES) over a lifespan shape older adults' functional health. The current study investigated the impact of health and SES during childhood and adulthood on older adults' functional health status. An exploration of this relationship yielded results indicating that health in childhood and adulthood, as well as higher SES, was associated with better functional health for older adults.

Data was collected from the Health and Retirement Study over multiple years of observation for 10,961 participants. Estimates from latent growth curve models were used to examine the relationship between childhood and adult health and SES on functional health.

Key Findings:

  • The trajectories of functional limitations were significantly related to both childhood and adult health and SES. Better health in childhood was related to fewer functional limitations at baseline assessment and moderate increases in functional limitations over the observation period.
  • Higher adult SES, as measured by education, income and wealth, was inversely associated with functional limitations at baseline. Current SES was not related to changes in functional limitations over time.
  • The mean number of functional limitations for participants increased by 33 percent between 1994 and 2002 with more functional limitations seen in the latter four years of the observation period.

Childhood health and SES continue to impact adult functional health, attesting to the import of conducting more research on various aspects of childhood in order to promote future well-being.