Socioeconomic Status Linked to Physical and Psychological Health in Later Life

Socioeconomic status (SES) influences many facets of a person’s life. Researchers have theorized that low SES is associated with poor physical and mental health throughout life, but few studies have examined the long-term effects. Even fewer studies have examined how positive or negative mood, resulting from SES, influence physical health. “Given this background, the present study examines inter-individual differences in the development of positive and negative affect and physical health as well as in the dynamic associations between emotions and physical health in the second half of life according to education as one aspect of SES,” said Ina Schollgen of the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin, Germany, and lead author of a recent study exploring SES, affect and physical health. Previous studies have have shown that positive affect (PA) decreases in old age and negative affect (NA) decreases until age 60, then stabilizes. But Schollgen’s study is among the first to link NA and PA, as a result of SES, directly to physical health.

Three waves of data were collected from 3,847 German participants who were part of a larger study. The researchers isolated several factors, including physical health, affect, SES, education and emotion. “We found an accelerating decline in PA for the low education group and stability for the high education group, whereas NA showed a slight linear decline in both groups,” said Schollgen. “At the same time, physical health showed the expected decline, which was accelerating in the high and more linear in the low education group, amounting to more than one standard deviation over a period of more than 40 years for both groups.” Schollgen believes that the results imply a direct link between SES and affect. “Given limited resources in later life, and especially for those with lower, the regulation of negative emotions might be more important than the maximization of PA.” Schollgen added, “This not only underlines the importance of SES for emotional functioning over the life span, but also shows that being socioeconomically disadvantaged may amplify the detrimental impact of emotional distress on health.”

Schöllgen, I., Huxhold, O., & Schmiedek, F. (2011, December 26). Emotions and Physical Health in the Second Half of Life: Interindividual Differences in Age-Related Trajectories and Dynamic Associations According to Socioeconomic Status. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026115

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  • Harrison


    January 11th, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    does this mean that i need to go ahead and try to win the lottery before i get old and get perma bummed?

  • Emma


    January 12th, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    Being at an advantage from a socioeconomic level means that you have access to better health care over the span of your life. We can’t forget that there are those who have no access to care other than what they may seek in the ER and we as a country tend to care about that little fact very little. It is like everyone keeps hoping that if we keep putting our heads in the sand that this problem is going to go away, but trust me, as the gap continues to widen between the haves and the have nots it is only going to get worse.

  • frank


    January 12th, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    certainly emma, that is what I thought too. healthcare is one of the most important things in later stages of life and your economic condition will often decide how that goes.that in turn will affect your life in a big big way.

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