Childhood Social and Economic Circumstances

Research studies have found that childhood socioeconomic status (SES) and cumulative disadvantageous economic circumstances are associated with poor cognitive and physical health in mid-life. Measurement of SES is difficult for adults even if assessed simultaneously with other variables of interest. The most common measures are income, education, and occupation. Measurement of SES for older adults is even more problematic, for example, income may not reflect assets and wealth, and years of education does not take into account context and quality.

A conceptual framework of childhood experiences was developed based on in-depth interviews with 25 ethnically diverse older adults (age 55-80). Eight thematic domains were identified, many with subdomains, that reflect individual characteristics and experiences as well as economic and educational opportunities.

  • Home and family circumstances
  • Neighborhood
  • Work and money
  • Potential for advancement through schooling
  • Schooling quality and content
  • Discrimination
  • Influence and support of adults
  • Leisure activities

The descriptions of these dimensions of childhood experiences can form the basis for a structured survey that can completed retrospectively by older adults.

Citation: Yen IH, Stewart AL, Scherzer T, Pérez-Stable EJ. Older adults' perspectives on key domains of childhood social and economic experiences and opportunities: a first step to creating a multidimensional measure. Epidemiol Perspect Innov. 2007 Nov 6;4:14. PMCID:PMC2186311

In a follow-up study, a self-report survey was developed to reflect the domains identified, including home and family circumstances, neighborhood, work and money, potential for advancement through schooling, and school quality and content. The retrospective survey was administered to 400 ethnically diverse older adults (African Americans, Latinos, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Whites). The publication below provides descriptive statistics and results of multivariate regression testing the extent to which these childhood circumstances were associated with adult educational attainment and health. Several measures were significantly associated with adult levels. The survey items are also described.

Citation: Yen IH, Gregorich S, Cohen AK, Stewart A. A community cohort study about childhood social and economic circumstances: racial/ethnic differences and associations with educational attainment and health of older adults. BMJ Open. 2013 Apr 5;3(4). PMCID:PMC3641446

For more information, contact Dr. Irene Yen