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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2018 Jan 11;73(2):279-291. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbv084.

Intergenerational Occupational Mobility and Objective Physical Functioning in Midlife and Older Ages.

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The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), Department of Medical Gerontology, Lincoln Gate, Trinity College Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law, University of Florida, Gainesville.



This study investigates the relationship between intergenerational occupational mobility and objective physical functioning in later life.


Data come from The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA), a nationally representative probability sample of 5,985 respondents aged 50 and older. Walking speed and grip strength are the functional health measures. The intergenerational occupational mobility measure characterizes origin and destination position as: professional/managerial, non-manual, skilled manual/semi-skilled, unskilled, never worked, and farmer.


Results indicated no direct association of childhood origin with walking speed or grip strength in later life, except for individuals from farming backgrounds. Those who experienced upward mobility were comparable in speed and strength with those who enjoyed high status (e.g., stable professional/managerial origin and destination) at both time points, whereas the downwardly mobile were comparable with those who were stable across generations at lower occupational positions. The results did not support the central tenets of the accumulation hypothesis. Respondents from farming backgrounds exhibited a clear performance advantage irrespective of destination, which, we speculate, may represent a critical period effect.


The mechanisms through which childhood origin affects health in later life are complex, but the position attained in adult life is most important. Intergenerational mobility is important only insofar as it leads to a destination occupation. The present findings suggest that the musculoskeletal system may accommodate environmental modification in adulthood.


Ageing; Cohort study; Grip strength; Life course models; Walking speed

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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