Blood on the tracks: life-course perspectives on health inequalities in later life


The overall aim of the thesis was to explore social inequalities in: a) mortality during mid-life, b) health in later life, and c) old-age mortality, from a life-course perspective. The studies are based on longitudinal Swedish survey and registry data.

The results from Study I showed substantial inequalities in health, based on social class and gender, among older adults (aged 55+). Moreover, the magnitude of these inequalities did not change during the period 1991-2002.

The results from Study II revealed social inequalities in cognitive functioning among the oldest old (aged 77+). Social turbulence and social class during childhood, education and social class in adulthood were all independently associated with level of cognitive functioning in later life.

In Study III, social inequalities in mortality during mid-life (i.e., between ages 25 and 69) were explored. The results showed that childhood living conditions were associated with marital status and social class in adulthood and that, in turn, these conditions were associated with mid-life mortality. Thus, the results suggested that childhood disadvantage may serve as a stepping stone to a hazardous life-course trajectory.

Study IV explored the association between income in mid-life, income during retirement and old-age mortality (i.e., mortality during retirement). The results showed that both income during mid-life and income during retirement were associated with old-age mortality. Mutually adjusted models showed that income in mid-life was more important for women’s mortality and that income during retirement was more important for men’s.

Thus, the results of the present thesis suggest that there are substantial social inequalities in the likelihood of reaching old age, as well as in health and mortality among older adults. These inequalities are shaped by differential exposures throughout the life-course that affect health in later life both through direct effects and through processes of accumulation.

ISBN 978-91-7447-062-8

© Stefan Fors, 2010