, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 153–181 | Cite as

The Effects of Childhood, Adult, and Community Socioeconomic Conditions on Health and Mortality among Older Adults in China

  • Ming Wen
  • Danan Gu


Using a large, nationally representative longitudinal sample of Chinese aged 65 and older, this study examines the effects of childhood, adult, and community socioeconomic conditions on mortality and several major health outcomes. The role of social mobility is also tested. We find that childhood socioeconomic conditions exert long-term effects on functional limitations, cognitive impairment, self-rated health, and mortality independent of adult and community socioeconomic conditions. Achieved conditions matter for most outcomes as well, considering that adult and community socioeconomic conditions have additional impacts on health among Chinese elders. The majority of the effects of childhood conditions are not mediated by adult and community conditions. The results also show that social mobility and health in later life are linked in complex ways and that psychosocial factors have marginal explanatory power for the effects of socioeconomic conditions. Overall, this study provides new longitudinal evidence from China to support the notion that health and mortality at older ages are influenced by long-term and dynamic processes structured by the social stratification system. We discuss our findings in the context of the life course and ecological perspective, emphasizing that human development is influenced by a nexus of social experiences that impact individuals throughout life.


Socioeconomic status Social mobility Aging Mortality Self-rated health Disability China 



The publicly available CLHLS data used in this study was obtained from Duke University, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging (R01 AG023627: PI: Zeng Yi), the China Natural Science Foundation, the China Social Science Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, and the Hong Kong Research Grant Council. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 American Sociological Association (ASA) Annual Meeting in New York City. We thank Matthew E. Dupre, the guest editor Suzanne M. Bianchi, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of University of Utah and the United Nations.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.Population DivisionUnited NationsNew YorkUSA

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