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Open Access Research article

Lifecourse socioeconomic circumstances and multimorbidity among older adults

Reginald D Tucker-Seeley12*, Yi Li34, Glorian Sorensen12 and SV Subramanian2

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Community Based Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA, 02215 USA

2 Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA, 02115 USA

3 Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA, 02215 USA

4 Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA, 02115 USA

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:313  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-313

Published: 14 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Many older adults manage multiple chronic conditions (i.e. multimorbidity); and many of these chronic conditions share common risk factors such as low socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood and low SES across the lifecourse. To better capture socioeconomic condition in childhood, recent research in lifecourse epidemiology has broadened the notion of SES to include the experience of specific hardships. In this study we investigate the association among childhood financial hardship, lifetime earnings, and multimorbidity.

Methods

Cross-sectional analysis of 7,305 participants age 50 and older from the 2004 Health and Retirement Study (HRS) who also gave permission for their HRS records to be linked to their Social Security Records in the United States. Zero-inflated Poisson regression models were used to simultaneously model the likelihood of the absence of morbidity and the expected number of chronic conditions.

Results

Childhood financial hardship and lifetime earnings were not associated with the absence of morbidity. However, childhood financial hardship was associated with an 8% higher number of chronic conditions; and, an increase in lifetime earnings, operationalized as average annual earnings during young and middle adulthood, was associated with a 5% lower number of chronic conditions reported. We also found a significant interaction between childhood financial hardship and lifetime earnings on multimorbidity.

Conclusions

This study shows that childhood financial hardship and lifetime earnings are associated with multimorbidity, but not associated with the absence of morbidity. Lifetime earnings modified the association between childhood financial hardship and multimorbidity suggesting that this association is differentially influential depending on earnings across young and middle adulthood. Further research is needed to elucidate lifecourse socioeconomic pathways associated with the absence of morbidity and the presence of multimorbidity among older adults.