The effects of life events and socioeconomic position in childhood and adulthood on successful aging

A.A.L. Kok, M.J. Aartsen, D.J.H. Deeg, M. Huisman

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Objectives: Building on social stress theory, this study has 2 aims. First, we aim to estimate the effects of stressful life events in childhood and adulthood on Successful Aging (SA). Second, we examine how unequal exposure to such life events between individuals with different socioeconomic position (SEP) contributes to socioeconomic inequalities in SA. Method: We used 16-year longitudinal data from 2,185 respondents aged 55-85 years in 1992 in the Dutch nationally representative Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam. Measurement of SA was based on earlier work, in which we integrated trajectories in 9 indicators of functioning into an index of SA. Using path analysis, we investigated direct and indirect effects of parental and adulthood SEP as well as of self-reported childhood and adulthood life events on SA. Results: Almost all included life events had negative direct effects on SA. Parental SEP had no direct effect on SA, whereas adulthood SEP had. Higher Parental SEP increased the likelihood of parental problems and parental death in childhood, resulting in negative indirect effects on SA. Higher adulthood SEP had both positive and negative indirect effects on SA, through increasing the likelihood of divorce and unemployment, but decreasing the likelihood of occupational disability. Discussion: SEP and particular stressful life events are largely, but not entirely independent predictors of SA. We found that high and low SEP may increase exposure to particular events that negatively affect SA. Findings suggest that low (childhood) SEP and stressful life events are interrelated factors that may limit individual opportunities to age successfully.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-278
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology. Series B : Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number2
Early online date21 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Inequalities
  • Life course
  • Path analysis
  • Stress
  • Trajectories of functioning

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