Article Text

other Versions

Download PDFPDF
Early-life socioeconomic circumstances explain health differences in old age, but not their evolution over time
  1. Boris Cheval1,2,
  2. Dan Orsholits1,
  3. Stefan Sieber1,
  4. Silvia Stringhini3,
  5. Delphine Courvoisier1,2,
  6. Matthias Kliegel1,4,
  7. Matthieu P Boisgontier5,
  8. Stephane Cullati1,2
  1. 1Swiss NCCR 'LIVES - Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives', University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  2. 2Department of General Internal Medicine, Rehabilitation and Geriatrics, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  3. 3Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University Hospital of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  4. 4Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  5. 5Physical Therapy, UBC Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Boris Cheval, Swiss NCCR “LIVES - Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives”, University of Geneva, Geneva 1205, Switzerland; boris.cheval{at}


Background Early-life socioeconomic circumstances (SEC) are associated with health in old age. However, epidemiological evidences on the influence of these early-life risk factors on trajectories of healthy ageing are inconsistent, preventing drawing solid conclusion about their potential influence. Here, to fill this knowledge gap, we used a statistical approach adapted to estimating change over time and an outcome-wide epidemiology approach to investigate whether early-life SEC were associated with the level of and rate of decline of physical, cognitive and emotional functioning over time.

Methods We used data on more than 23 000 adults in older age from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, a 12-year large-scale longitudinal study with repeated measurements of multiple health indicators of the same participants over time (2004 –2015, assessments every 2 years). Confounder-adjusted linear growth curve models were used to examine the associations of early-life SEC with the evolution of muscle strength, lung function, cognitive function, depressive symptoms and well-being over time.

Results We consistently found an association between early-life SEC and the mean levels of all health indicators at age 63.5, with a critical role played by the cultural aspect of disadvantage. These associations were only partly explained by adult-life SEC factors. By contrast, evidences supporting an association between early-life SEC and the rate of change in health indicators were weak and inconsistent.

Conclusions Early-life SEC are associated with health in old age, but not with trajectories of healthy ageing. Conceptual models in life course research should consider the possibility of a limited influence of early-life SEC on healthy ageing trajectories.

  • health status
  • ageing trajectories
  • healthy ageing
  • early life
  • socioeconomic factors

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it first published. The 7th author's name has been corrected.

  • Contributors BC designed the analyses. BC analysed the data. BC drafted the manuscript. All authors helped in the interpretation of the data and critically appraised and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research 'LIVES—Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives', which is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF; 51NF40-160590). BC is supported by an Ambizione grant (No: PZ00P1_180040) from the SNSF. The authors are grateful to the SNSF for financial assistance.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The relevant local research ethics committees in the participating countries approved SHARE.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement This SHARE dataset is available at