Lower socioeconomic status in childhood linked to racial differences in disability during adulthood

Research Activities, March 2010, No. 355

Older adults may experience disabilities in activities of daily living (ADL), such as bathing and eating, and in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), such as managing money and shopping for groceries. A new study finds that childhood socioeconomic status (SES) may affect these disabilities later in life and explain some of the racial differences observed among older blacks and whites. Wayne State researcher Mary Elizabeth Bowen, Ph.D., analyzed data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study 1998-2006, a national sample of community-dwelling blacks and whites. She looked at individuals' ages (starting at age 65), adult SES, health conditions and behaviors, and disability at baseline in 1998. Every 2 years, she looked at these same characteristics again.

Compared with white parents, black parents of study participants had fewer years of education. Black fathers were less likely to work in certain occupations, such as professional and sales jobs. They were also more likely to be absent or deceased when black participants were growing up. As adults, black participants had lower educational levels, income, and wealth compared with whites. Education was found to have the strongest correlation with childhood SES.

Over the course of the survey, blacks reported more ADL and IADL disability than whites. The risk for ADL disability increased with age and grew over time. Blacks reported more ADL disability than whites. This increased over time for older blacks. When parental education of the participants was taken into consideration, racial differences in ADL disability were reduced. This suggests that parental education may account for some of the racial differences observed in ADL disability. The occupation of an individual's father was also associated with a reduction in racial differences of ADL. The risk for IADL disability increased with age and grew over time. Blacks reported more IADL disability than whites. As with ADL disability, IADL disability increased over time for older blacks. Racial differences in IADL disability were also reduced when parental education was taken into account. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13819).

See "Childhood socioeconomic status and racial differences in disability: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2006)," by Dr. Bowen in Social Science & Medicine 69, pp. 433-441.

Current as of March 2010
Internet Citation: Lower socioeconomic status in childhood linked to racial differences in disability during adulthood: Research Activities, March 2010, No. 355. March 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/mar10/0310RA11.html