Life course perspectives suggest that later life health reflects long term social patterns over an individual’s life, in particular the occurrence and timing of key roles and transitions. This has been demonstrated empirically for multiple aspects of fertility and partnership histories, including timing of births and marriage, parity, and the presence and timing of a marital disruption. Most previous studies have, however, addressed particular aspects of fertility or partnership histories singly.
Until recently, most of this work has focused on cross-sectional associations between family statuses and health, or short-term changes in health associated with family transitions. Such analyses are limited in their ability to examine the lifelong histories of biological, social, and psychological development reflected in observed health differences.
This study is the first to consider how a combined classification of marital and fertility histories over a long period of the life course is associated with later life general and functional health, and provides a new approach to understanding the position of the family in health inequalities.
Our results suggest that family life course trajectories have lasting consequences for men’s physical health which are dependent on the occurrence and timing of major life course events. In particular, early family formation, marital disruption, the timing of marital disruption, and failure to marry were detrimental for men’s physical health.
For women, we found few differences in physical health between the family life course trajectory groups: only women with both a disrupted marital history and a high level of fertility were in significantly worse health than those women who had experienced a normatively ‘standard’ family life course.
December 3, 2015