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Soc Sci Med. 2003 Nov;57(9):1643-52.

Socioeconomic status and health among the aged in the United States and Germany: a comparative cross-sectional study.

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Department of Medical Sociology, University of Duesseldorf, P.O. Box 10 10 07, D-40001 Duesseldorf, Germany.


This study investigates socioeconomic status (SES) differences in health among the aged in Germany and the United States. Intra-elderly age differences in the SES-health gradient are also examined. The study uses data from two national telephone surveys conducted in Germany (N=682) and the United States (N=608) using probability samples of non-institutionalised persons 60 years or older. In addition to the traditional indicators of SES (education, income and occupational status), two alternative indicators (assets and home ownership) are utilised. Self-rated health, depression (CES-D) and functional limitations are introduced as health indicators. Results of multiple logistic regression analyses show that income is the best SES predictor of the three health measures among the aged in Germany, whereas education, occupational prestige, assets, and home ownership are not consistently related to health. Respective analyses of the US data demonstrate weaker and less consistent associations of health measures with SES indicators. Consequently, there is a higher percentage of explained variance in health by SES among the aged in Germany compared to the United States. The data also show that social inequalities in health tend to diminish at older ages in the United States, but such disparities vary only slightly by age in Germany. In conclusion, although SES health differences are observed among the elderly in both countries, they are more pronounced in Germany than in the United States where effects are restricted to younger old age. One interpretation of this finding points to higher selective mortality of middle and early old age groups with a low SES in the United States due to stronger health-related deprivation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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