JOURNAL ARTICLE

Childhood socioeconomic status and racial differences in disability: evidence from the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2006)

Mary Elizabeth Bowen
Social Science & Medicine 2009, 69 (3): 433-41
19541400
This study used a life course approach to examine the ways in which childhood socioeconomic status (SES) may account for some of the racial differences in disability in later life. Eight years (5 waves) of longitudinal data from the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS; 1998-2006), a nationally representative sample of community-dwelling Black and White Americans over age 50 (N=14,588), were used in nonlinear multilevel models. Parental education and father's occupation were used to predict racial differences in activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). The role of adult SES (education, income, and wealth) and health behaviors (smoking, drinking alcohol, exercising, and being obese) were also examined and models were adjusted for health conditions (heart problems, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cancer, lung disease, and arthritis). With the inclusion of childhood SES indicators, racial differences in ADL and IADL disability were reduced. Adult SES and health behaviors mediated some of the relationship between low childhood SES and disability, though low childhood SES continued to be associated with disability net of these. In support of a life course approach, these findings suggest that socioeconomic conditions in early life may have implications for racial differences in disability between older Black and older White adults.

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