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Open Access Research article

Economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health: a population based study concerning risk accumulation, critical period and social mobility

Martin Lindström12*, Kristina Hansen1 and Maria Rosvall12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Sciences, Malmö University Hospital, Lund University, S-205 02, Malmö, Sweden

2 Centre for Economic Demography, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:761  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-761

Published: 11 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Research in recent decades increasingly indicates the importance of conditions in early life for health in adulthood. Only few studies have investigated socioeconomic conditions in both childhood and adulthood in relation to health testing the risk accumulation, critical period, and social mobility hypotheses within the same setting. This study investigates the associations between economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health with reference to the accumulation, critical period and social mobility hypotheses in life course epidemiology, taking demographic, social support, trust and lifestyle factors into account.

Methods

The public health survey in Skåne (southern Sweden) in 2008 is a cross-sectional postal questionnaire study based on a random sample, in which 28,198 persons aged 18–80 years participated (55% participation). Logistic regression models were used to investigate associations between economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health.

Results

Three life-course socioeconomic models concerning the association between economic stress and self-rated health (SRH) were investigated. The results showed a graded association between the combined effect of childhood and adulthood economic stress and poor SRH in accordance with the accumulation hypothesis. Furthermore, upward social mobility showed a protecting effect and downward mobility increased odds ratios of poor SRH in accordance with the social mobility hypothesis. High/severe economic stress exposures in both stages of life were independently associated with poor SRH in adulthood. Furthermore, stratifying the study population into six age groups showed similar odds ratios of poor SRH regarding economic stress exposure in childhood and adulthood in all age groups among both men and women.

Conclusions

The accumulation and social mobility hypotheses were confirmed. The critical period model was confirmed in the sense that both economic stress in childhood and adulthood had independent effects on poor SRH. However, it was not confirmed in the sense that a particular window in time (in childhood or adulthood) had a specifically high impact on self-rated health.

Keywords:
Economic stress; self-rated health; Early life conditions; Life course perspective; Accumulation; Critical period; Social mobility; Social support; Trust; Sweden