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Demography. 2011 Feb;48(1):153-81. doi: 10.1007/s13524-010-0003-2.

The effects of childhood, adult, and community socioeconomic conditions on health and mortality among older adults in China.

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  • 1Department of Sociology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


Using a large, nationally representative longitudinal sample of Chinese aged 65 and older, this study examines the effects of childhood, adult, and community socioeconomic conditions on mortality and several major health outcomes. The role of social mobility is also tested. We find that childhood socioeconomic conditions exert long-term effects on functional limitations, cognitive impairment, self-rated health, and mortality independent of adult and community socioeconomic conditions. Achieved conditions matter for most outcomes as well, considering that adult and community socioeconomic conditions have additional impacts on health among Chinese elders. The majority of the effects of childhood conditions are not mediated by adult and community conditions. The results also show that social mobility and health in later life are linked in complex ways and that psychosocial factors have marginal explanatory power for the effects of socioeconomic conditions. Overall, this study provides new longitudinal evidence from China to support the notion that health and mortality at older ages are influenced by long-term and dynamic processes structured by the social stratification system. We discuss our findings in the context of the life course and ecological perspective, emphasizing that human development is influenced by a nexus of social experiences that impact individuals throughout life.

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