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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Life course socio-economic position and quality of life in adulthood: a systematic review of life course models

Claire L Niedzwiedz1*, Srinivasa V Katikireddi2, Jill P Pell1 and Richard Mitchell1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Wellbeing, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

2 Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, UK

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:628  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-628

Published: 9 August 2012

Abstract

Background

A relationship between current socio-economic position and subjective quality of life has been demonstrated, using wellbeing, life and needs satisfaction approaches. Less is known regarding the influence of different life course socio-economic trajectories on later quality of life. Several conceptual models have been proposed to help explain potential life course effects on health, including accumulation, latent, pathway and social mobility models. This systematic review aimed to assess whether evidence supported an overall relationship between life course socio-economic position and quality of life during adulthood and if so, whether there was support for one or more life course models.

Methods

A review protocol was developed detailing explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria, search terms, data extraction items and quality appraisal procedures. Literature searches were performed in 12 electronic databases during January 2012 and the references and citations of included articles were checked for additional relevant articles. Narrative synthesis was used to analyze extracted data and studies were categorized based on the life course model analyzed.

Results

Twelve studies met the eligibility criteria and used data from 10 datasets and five countries. Study quality varied and heterogeneity between studies was high. Seven studies assessed social mobility models, five assessed the latent model, two assessed the pathway model and three tested the accumulation model. Evidence indicated an overall relationship, but mixed results were found for each life course model. Some evidence was found to support the latent model among women, but not men. Social mobility models were supported in some studies, but overall evidence suggested little to no effect. Few studies addressed accumulation and pathway effects and study heterogeneity limited synthesis.

Conclusions

To improve potential for synthesis in this area, future research should aim to increase study comparability. Recommendations include testing all life course models within individual studies and the use of multiple measures of socio-economic position and quality of life. Comparable cross-national data would be beneficial to enable investigation of between-country differences.