Risk factors in the Midspan family study by social class in childhood and adulthood

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Social class in childhood and in adulthood have been shown to be important determinants of risk factors in later life. Often the childhood information is retrospective and liable to bias. We use data from a family study of two generations of adults to investigate the effects of social class in childhood, adulthood and social mobility on risk factors.


In 1996, 2338 adult offspring of participants of the 1970s Renfrew/Paisley study took part in a screening examination. They provided information on sociological, behavioural and clinical risk factors, as their parents had done 20 years previously. Social class and father's social class were available, enabling their influence on risk factors to be investigated.


Generally risk factors improved for offspring compared with parents, except for Body mass index and obesity, which worsened. Risk factors were less favourable in manual compared with non-manual offspring, and were more closely related to own than father's social class. There was a large amount of upward social mobility involving 35% of sons and 50% of daughters. Risk factors for the upwardly mobile tended to be more favourable than the class they left behind but less favourable than the class they joined.


The concomitants of social mobility may reflect behavioural choices, such as smoking, and adverse factors, which are more difficult to leave behind. The relatively fast changes in social class profile may not be reflected in as quick changes in population health, as the upwardly mobile bring their earlier life adversities with them.

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