Western University SociologyFaculty of Social Science

Investigating Health Trajectories over the Life Course and Across Generations

A Longitudinal Analysis of the Transmission of Health and Socioeconomic Inequality from Parents to Their Adult Children

  • Overview

  • Studies

  • Progress

  • Project Team

It is well understood that socioeconomic status is positively associated with health, and that disadvantaged social circumstances in childhood can set individuals on pathways that result in the accumulation of further disadvantages that lead to poorer health over time. However, this body of work treats health inequality as a process that operates within the span of the individual life course, overlooking the transmission of health inequality across generations within families. We understand little about the process through which health inequality is passed along through families beyond that childhood social contexts, such as poverty, are important. In part, this oversight is related to the methodological challenges associated with assessing the intergenerational transmission of inequality, as well as the lack of longitudinal data that follow both children and their parents across a significant portion of their lives. In this study, we will use a unique and relatively unexplored intergenerational component of the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which began in 1968 and continues to follow original sample members and their adult children as they form their own households. Using quantitative methods, such as latent class analysis, we will examine (1) the long term consequences of disadvantaged childhood circumstances; (2) the relationship between adult social and economic resources and health; and (3) the intergenerational transmission of health risk and health behaviours. We anticipate the findings from this work will further our understanding of the mechanisms through which inequalities in health are perpetuated or alleviated across the life course and across generations. Moreover our findings relate directly to health and social policies targeted at reducing health disparities by investing in early life inputs. Understanding why health trajectories within and between families differ is important for mapping how inequalities are perpetuated and can be reduced.

Funding

2012-2015 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant: Advancing Theoretical and Methodological Innovations in Health Research, Value: $199,728

Principal Investigator

Andrea Willson, Ph.D.
Sociology, Faculty of Social Science
The University of Western Ontario

Kim Shuey, Ph.D.
Sociology, Faculty of Social Science
The University of Western Ontario

Co-investigators

Rachel Margolis, Ph.D.
Sociology, Faculty of Social Science
The University of Western Ontario

Laurie Corna, Ph.D.
Social Science, Health & Medicine, Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy
King's College London

This project makes use of the following survey data:

Panel Study of Income Dynamics, public use dataset. Produced and distributed by the Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, U.S.A. http://psidonline.isr.umich.edu/

 

Papers and Publications

Conference Papers

(2012) Kim Shuey and Andrea Willson, "The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Socioeconomic Disadvantage on Health Inequality" presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Sociological Association, Waterloo, ON, May 2012.

     abstract
It is well understood that socioeconomic status is positively associated with health, and that disadvantaged social circumstances in childhood can set individuals on pathways that result in the accumulation of further disadvantages that lead to poorer health over time. However, this body of work treats health inequality as a process that operates within the span of the individual life course, overlooking the transmission of inequality across generations within families. In this study we use longitudinal data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which began in 1968. The PSID followed the offspring of original sample members as they became adults and formed their own household, and thus includes data from two generations over a significant portion of their lives. Using latent class analysis we identify health risk trajectories of second generation respondents (ages 43-57 in 2009) and use socioeconomic data collected from their parents during the respondent's childhood in order to examine the consequences of disadvantaged childhood circumstances on health in mid-life. We find that childhood disadvantage has long-term, negative consequences for health, and that pathways from childhood socioeconomic conditions to adult health may be mediated by resources and health behaviours in adulthood.

(2010) Andrea Willson and Kim Shuey, "A Longitudinal Examination of the Intergenerational Transmission of Health Inequality" presented at the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies Conference, Cambridge, UK, September 2010.

     abstract
One unanswered question in the sociological literature on health inequality is how to theoretically and empirically integrate life course processes of cumulative advantage with processes of inter-generational transmission of health risk. Previous research has primarily treated health inequality as a process that operates within, rather than across, generations. Using longitudinal data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics covering several life stages and multiple family generations, we identify health trajectories of adult children and their parents and assess the extent of inter-generational continuity in health. Latent class analysis indicates that the health of both respondents and their fathers could be characterized by three trajectories: low risk of experiencing health problems throughout the survey period, increasing risk, and high risk. A strong association exists between respondents’ and parents’ health trajectories, an association that remained when controlling for respondents’ adult sociodemographic characteristics and resources. Results suggest the importance of the transmission of inequality across generations for understanding the cumulative relationship between resources and adult health. In ongoing research, we use data collected during childhood to investigate the effect of childhood environment on adult health trajectories and the extent to which adult resources alter the pathway between childhood environment and adult health.

(2010) Kim Shuey and Andrea Willson, "Integrating Cumulative Advantage Theory and the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality to Understand Health Risk Trajectories" presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta, August 2010.

     abstract
In this study we use longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and latent class analysis to identify health risk trajectories of adult children and their fathers and assess the extent of intergenerational continuity in health risk trajectories. In addition, we examine the extent to which resources accumulated in adulthood explain intergenerational continuity in health risk. Based on latent class analysis, we find that the health risk of both respondents and their fathers could be characterized by three trajectories: low risk throughout the survey period, increasing risk, and high risk. There is a strong association between respondents’ health risk trajectories and those of their fathers, and this association remained when controlling for respondents’ socio-demographic characteristics, including education. The results suggest the importance of the transmission of inequality across generations for understanding the cumulative relationship between resources and adult health.

Invited Presentations

(2011) "The Link Between Childhood Adversity and Adult Health Risk Trajectories" McGill Social Statistics Speaker Series, October 2011.

Principal Investigator:

Andrea Willson, Associate Professor

Andrea Willson
  • Social inequality of the life course
  • Longitudinal data methods
  • Socioeconomic status and health

willson@uwo.ca
519-661-2111 x85132
SSC 5423
Faculty Profile

Kim Shuey, Associate Professor
Graduate Chair, Sociology

Kim Shuey
  • Health inequality across the life course
  • Work, health, and aging in the new economy
  • Nonstandard and precarious employment

kshuey@uwo.ca
519-661-2111 x85135
SSC 5426
office hours: by appointment
Faculty Profile

Co-Investigators:

Rachel Margolis, Assistant Professor

Rachel Margolis
  • Demography
  • Family
  • Health and Well-being

rachel.margolis@uwo.ca
519-661-2111 x82850
SSC 5326
office hours: by appointment
Faculty Profile

Laurie Corna, Lecturer, King's College London
Lecturer at USI Università della Svizzera italiana / University of Lugano
CIHR Post-Doctoral Fellow, Sociology, The University of Western Ontario

  • social inequalities in health; community and public health
  • social gerontology; life course influences on health and well-being in later life
  • quantitative research methods

0207 848 7115
laurie.corna@kcl.ac.uk