Economic hardship over twenty-two consecutive years of adult life and markers of early ageing: physical capability, cognitive function and inflammation

  • Else FoverskovEmail author
  • Gitte Lindved Petersen
  • Jolene Lee Masters Pedersen
  • Naja Hulvej Rod
  • Erik Lykke Mortensen
  • Helle Bruunsgaard
  • Rikke Lund
Original Investigation


This study assesses the associations between annual measures of economic hardship (EH) across 22 years of adulthood and objective measures of early ageing in a Danish late-middle-aged population (N = 5575). EH (years < 60% of the National median equivalized household disposable income) was experienced by 18% during 1987–2008. Four or more years in EH (reference = null years in EH) was related to poorer physical capability (chair rise: − 1.49 counts/30 s [95% confidence interval (CI) − 2.36, − 0.61], hand grip strength: − 1.22 kg [95% CI − 2.38, − 0.07], jump height: − 1.67 cm [95% CI − 2.44, − 0.91] and balance: 18% [95% CI 9, 28]), poorer cognitive function (Intelligenz-Struktur-Test: − 1.50 points [95% CI − 2.89, − 0.12]) and higher inflammatory levels (C-reactive protein: 22% [95% CI 4, 44], and Interleukin-6: 23% [95% CI 10, 39]). Comparing four EH trajectories, people with a high versus low probability of EH over time had poorer physical capability (chair rise: − 1.70 counts/30 s [95% CI − 3.38, − 0.01], grip: − 4.33 kg [95% CI − 6.50, − 2.16], jump: − 1.68 cm [95% CI − 3.12, − 0.25] and balance: 31% [95% CI 12, 52]). No associations were observed with tumour necrosis factor-α. Results were adjusted for sex, age, long-term parental unemployment/financial problems, education, baseline income and cohort. This study suggested EH for four or more years to be associated with poorer physical capability, cognitive function and increased inflammatory levels in midlife. High probability of EH across adulthood was similarly related to poorer physical capability and CRP, but not cognitive function and the remaining inflammatory markers. In conclusion, preventive initiatives focusing on reducing the burden of sustained economic hardship may lead to increased healthy ageing.


Economic hardship Early ageing Life course Physical capability Cognitive function Inflammation 



The authors thank the staff at Department of Public Health and National Research Centre for the Working Environment, who undertook the data collection. Further thanks to Kirsten Avlund†, Nils-Erik Fiehn, Åse Marie Hansen, Poul Holm-Pedersen and Merete Osler who participated in the initiation and establishment of the Copenhagen Ageing and Midlife Biobank from 2009 to 2011. The authors acknowledge the crucial role of the initiators and steering groups of The Metropolit Cohort, The Copenhagen Perinatal Cohort and The Danish Longitudinal Study in Work, Unemployment and Health. Further, the authors would like to thank the Social Inequalities in Ageing (SIA) project, funded by NordForsk, Project No. 74637, for valuable collaboration relating to this project.


This work was funded by the Center for Healthy Aging established by a grant from the Nordea Foundation. The research leading to these results was carried out as part of the Social Inequalities in Ageing (SIA) project, funded by NordForsk, Project No. 74637. The Copenhagen Ageing and Midlife Biobank has been supported by a generous grant from the VELUX FOUNDATIONS (VELUX26145 and 31539).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10433_2019_523_MOESM1_ESM.docx (53 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 52 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Social Medicine, Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Center for Healthy AgingUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.Research Group for Genomic Epidemiology, National Food InstituteTechnical University of DenmarkKgs. LyngbyDenmark
  4. 4.Section of Epidemiology, Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  5. 5.Unit of Medical Psychology, Section of Environmental Health, Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  6. 6.Department of Clinical Immunology 7631, RigshospitaletUniversity Hospital of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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