, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 1583–1603 | Cite as

Offspring Socioeconomic Status and Parent Mortality Within a Historical Population

  • Zachary ZimmerEmail author
  • Heidi A. Hanson
  • Ken R. Smith


Considering a network approach to health determinants, we test the hypothesis that benefits of high socioeconomic status (SES) may be transmitted up the generational ladder from offspring to parents. Studies that examine own SES and own health outcomes, or SES of parents and outcomes of young or adolescent children, are common. Those that investigate SES of offspring and their association with parental health are rare. Employing data from a historical population of individuals extracted from a comprehensive population database that links demographic and vital records across generations, this study tests the hypothesis that higher offspring SES associates with lower parental mortality after controlling for parental SES. The sample includes 29,972 individuals born between 1864 and 1883 whose offspring were born between 1886 and 1920. SES is operationalized using Nam-Powers occupational status scores divided into quartiles and a category for farmers. Models assess mortality risk after age 40. Included is a test for whether effects are proportional across parents who died younger and older. Estimated life expectancies across categories of offspring SES conditioned on parental SES are calculated to illustrate specifically how differences in SES relate to differences in years lived. Results indicate a longevity penalty for those whose offspring have low SES and a longevity dividend for those with high-SES offspring. The influence of offspring attributes on well-being of parents points to fluid and myriad linkages between generations.


Fundamental cause Intergenerational Mortality Occupation Socioeconomic status 



An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Boston, Massachusetts, May 1, 2014. Partial funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health – National Institute of Aging, 2R01 AG022095 (Early Life Conditions, Survival and Health, Smith PI). Heidi A. Hanson is partially funded by a National Institutes of Health K12 Award, 1K12HD085852-01. The authors wish to thank the Huntsman Cancer Foundation for database support provided to the Pedigree and Population Resource of the HCI, University of Utah. We also thank Alison Fraser and Diana Lane Reed for valuable assistance in managing the data. Partial support for all data sets within the UPDB was provided by the HCI Cancer Center Support Grant, P30 CA42014 from the National Cancer Institute.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zachary Zimmer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heidi A. Hanson
    • 2
  • Ken R. Smith
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Family Studies & Gerontology, and Canada Research Chair in Global Aging and CommunityMount Saint Vincent UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Population Sciences, Huntsman Cancer InstituteUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.Department of Family and Consumer Studies and Population Sciences, Huntsman Cancer InstituteUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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