Published: May 18, 2020

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2020-11


Manuel Flores and Barbara L. Wolfe.

Non-Technical Summary:

We expand on earlier studies by investigating the links between different dimensions of childhood health and multiple life course outcomes including the age of onset of serious cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and job-related health outcomes. The four dimensions of childhood health are mental, physical, self-rated general health and severe headaches or migraines, all by age 15. The data set we use includes 21 countries from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. We find that the different dimensions of childhood health have unique ties to later outcomes.

For men, early mental health problems play a stronger role for all life course job-related health outcomes than other dimensions of childhood health, including the lowest probability of having ever worked, and when they work, accumulating the greatest number of work gaps, working less years in full-time work, and being most likely to retire early due to health problems. However, early poor or fair general health is more strongly linked to the spike in onset of CVDs in their late 40s The link between early mental health problems and reduced probability of having married or having a natural child is particularly strong for men, and may contribute to explaining the findings.

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

Our study shows that investigating the links between multiple different dimensions of childhood health and multiple health-related life course outcomes by gender enables a better understanding of how health inequalities originate and are shaped over people’s lives.


May 18, 2020