The relationship between lifetime health trajectories and socioeconomic attainment in middle age

Dohoon Lee, Margot Jackson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    A large literature demonstrates the direct and indirect influence of health on socioeconomic attainment, and reveals the ways in which health and socioeconomic background simultaneously and dynamically affect opportunities for attainment and mobility. Despite an increasing understanding of the effects of health on social processes, research to date remains limited in its conceptualization and measurement of the temporal dimensions of health, especially in the presence of socioeconomic circumstances that covary with health over time. Guided by life course theory, we use data from the British National Child Development Study, an ongoing panel study of a cohort born in 1958, to examine the association between lifetime health trajectories and socioeconomic attainment in middle age. We apply finite mixture modeling to identify distinct trajectories of health that simultaneously account for timing, duration and stability. Moreover, we employ propensity score weighting models to account for the presence of time-varying socioeconomic factors in estimating the impact of health trajectories. We find that, when poor health is limited to the childhood years, the disadvantage in socioeconomic attainment relative to being continuously healthy is either insignificant or largely explained by time-varying socioeconomic confounders. The socioeconomic impact of continuously deteriorating health over the life course is more persistent, however. Our results suggest that accounting for the timing, duration and stability of poor health throughout both childhood and adulthood is important for understanding how health works to produce social stratification. In addition, the findings highlight the importance of distinguishing between confounding and mediating effects of time-varying socioeconomic circumstances.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)96-112
    Number of pages17
    JournalSocial Science Research
    StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


    • Health trajectory
    • Socioeconomic attainment
    • The life course
    • Time-varying confounding

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Sociology and Political Science


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