Published: June 18, 2020


A new Life Course Centre Working Paper investigates how health inequalities originate and are shaped over people’s lives.

The study examines the links between different dimensions of childhood health and multiple health-related life course outcomes by gender. The dimensions of childhood health are mental, physical, self-rated general health, and severe headaches or migraines, by age 15. The life course health-related outcomes include the onset of serious cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), episodes of ill health during adulthood, years employed and those worked full-time and gaps in employment, and retirement due to ill health.

For men, the paper finds that early mental health problems play a stronger role in life course job-related health outcomes than other areas of childhood health. This includes the lowest probability of having ever worked, the greatest number of work gaps, working less years in full-time work, and being most likely to retire early due to health problems. Early poor or fair general health is also strongly linked to the spike in onset of CVDs in men in their late 40s.

For women, the links between childhood health and life course outcomes are less clear-cut. The spike in onset of CVDs in women in their late 40s is driven by those with severe headaches or migraines. Women with early poor or fair general health and mental health conditions had more work gaps and were more likely to retire early. Surprisingly, women with early physical health problems had better job-related health outcomes, which may be partly explained by greater investment in education for daughters with physical health problems.

The Working Paper is authored by Manuel Flores from the Research Institute for Evaluation and Public Policies at UIC Barcelona and Barbara L. Wolfe from the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and utilises a data set incorporating 21 countries from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe.

You can read the full Working Paper, ‘The Influence of Early Life Health Conditions on Life Course Health,’ here.