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J Epidemiol Community Health 60:484-489 doi:10.1136/jech.2005.042473
  • Research report

Life course social roles and women’s health in mid-life: causation or selection?

  1. Anne McMunn1,
  2. Mel Bartley2,
  3. Rebecca Hardy3,
  4. Diana Kuh3
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK
  2. 2International Centre for Health and Society; Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London
  3. 3MRC National Survey of Health and Development, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A McMunn
 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; a.mcmunn{at}ucl.ac.uk
  • Accepted 7 December 2005

Abstract

Study objective: To investigate whether relations between social roles and health are explained by health selection into employment and parenthood by examining the influence of early health on relations between long term social role histories and health in mid-life.

Design: Prospective, population based, birth cohort study.

Participants and setting: Women from a national British cohort born in 1946, including 1171 women with a valid measure of self reported health at age 54 and valid work and family role measures at ages 26, 36, 43, and 53, as well as 1433 women with a valid body mass index (BMI) measure at age 53 and valid work and family role measures at ages 26, 36, 43, and 53.

Outcome measures: Self reported health at age 54 and obesity at age 53, taken from objective height and weight measures conducted by a survey nurse during face to face interviews in respondents’ homes.

Main results: Women who occupied multiple roles over the long term reported relatively good health at age 54 and this was not explained by early health. Women with weak long term ties to the labour market were more likely to be obese at age 53. Examination of body mass index (BMI) from age 15 showed that long term homemakers were larger than other women from age 26, but their mean BMI increased significantly more with age than that of other women.

Conclusions: Relations between social roles and health were generally not explained by health selection into employment and parenthood, although some health selection may occur for obesity.

Footnotes

  • Funding: The national survey of health and development is funded by the Medical Research Council, United Kingdom (MRCUK). Professor Bartley’s work is supported by ESRC Research Priority Network no L32653061 Human Capability and Resilience and ESRC Project Grant no RES 000 23 0588 Late Life Work and Retirement.

  • Competing interests: none.