Education and physical health trajectories in old age. Evidence from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE)

An Erratum to this article was published on 17 February 2013



The model of cumulative inequality predicts that health differences between educational levels increase with age. Using a variety of analytical approaches and measures of health, studies have, however, reported increasing as well as decreasing and constant patterns of educational health inequality. The aim of this study is use a standardized research design to compare different dimensions of health inequality trajectories across educational levels.


We used data from two waves (2004/2005 and 2006/2007) of SHARE. The sample consisted of respondents aged 50–80 (n = 14,818). Using OLS regression models, we analyzed trajectories of health inequality in self-reported measures (ADL, IADL, mobility, chronic diseases, and self-rated health) as well as non-invasive objective measures (grip strength) of physical health.


Inequality between higher and lower educated individuals increased significantly in limitations of physical functioning and grip strength. In chronic diseases and self-rated health, the gap between these two groups remained constant.


Although our results mainly supported the model of cumulative inequality, they also showed that the trajectory of the education-health gradient is not uniform but varies across different dimensions of physical health.

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Correspondence to Liliya Leopold.

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This article is part of the special issue “Life course influences on health and health inequalities: moving towards a Public Health perspective”.

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Leopold, L., Engelhartdt, H. Education and physical health trajectories in old age. Evidence from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Int J Public Health 58, 23–31 (2013).

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  • Cumulative advantage
  • Education and health
  • Old age