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Women's economic activity trajectories over the life course: implications for the self-rated health of women aged 64+ in England
  1. Juliet Stone1,
  2. Maria Evandrou1,2,
  3. Jane Falkingham1,
  4. Athina Vlachantoni1,2
  1. 1ESRC Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton, Southampton, Hampshire, UK
  2. 2Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Juliet Stone, ESRC Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton, School of Social Sciences, Room 2043, Building 58, Highfield, Southampton S017 1BJ, UK; j.stone{at}


Background Previous research has highlighted the importance of accumulated life-course labour market status and the balancing of multiple roles for understanding inequalities in health in later life. This may be particularly important for women, who are increasingly required to balance work and family life in liberal welfare contexts, such as in Britain.

Methods This study analyses retrospective life history data for 2160 women aged 64+ years (born 1909–1943) from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, collected in 2006–2007 as part of an ongoing panel study. Optimal matching and cluster analyses are used to produce a taxonomy of women's life-course economic activity trajectories based on their experiences between ages 16 and 64 years. This classification is then used in logistic regression analysis to investigate associations with self-rated health in later life.

Results A set of five trajectories emerge as the dominant patterns of women's economic activity over the life course for those cohorts of English women born prior to 1943: (1) full-time workers; (2) family carers; (3) full-time returners; (4) part-time returners; (5) atypical/inactive. Regression analyses show that women who experience defined periods of full-time work both before and after focusing on family life appear to have the most favourable later life health outcomes.

Conclusions The findings are discussed with reference to the accumulation of social and economic resources over the life course and the balancing of multiple roles in work and family domains. In conclusion, the development of policies that facilitate women, if they wish, to successfully combine paid employment with family life could have a positive impact on their health in later life.

  • Life course epidemiology

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