Patterns and causes of health inequalities in later life: a Bourdieusian approach

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Abstract

This study explores the relationship between social class and health change in older people in a path analysis, using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (n = 6241) in a Bourdieusian theoretical framework. Bourdieu drew a distinction between the occupational characteristics by which people are classified and the secondary properties of class that relate to lifestyle (economic, cultural and social capitals). Our path model includes both occupational and secondary characteristics of objective social class as well as a measure of subjective social class. We investigate the effects of the predictors on change in three health outcomes (self-rated health, number of symptoms of depression and number of difficulties with the activities of daily living). The analysis adds to Bourdieusian research by showing how the effects of objective social class on health are partially mediated by perceived social status. It also adds to substantive research on the relationship between class and health by suggesting that class-related health inequalities do persist for older people, even for those who are not in paid employment. It suggests that a large amount of the effect of occupation on the health of older people is not direct but indirect; through their personal wealth and lifestyle.

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