Washington: Various studies have pointed out that low socioeconomic status can be an important health risk factor. A new study has discovered that if one succeeds in improving one’s status, not only economically but also culturally, the prospects in terms of life expectancy and health improve dramatically.
So-called “life course trajectories” are the focus of a study conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of IRCCS Neuromed, Italy, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Researchers analyzed the relationship between socioeconomic status over time and mortality in more than 22,000 people recruited into the Moli-sani study.
“Research on socioeconomic status typically focuses on one or more indicators measured at a specific time in life,” said Marialaura Bonaccio, epidemiologist at the Department and first author of the study.
“As an example, the level of education can be assessed in young adults, but we don’t know what happened before or after graduation. There are many possible combinations, and a person born into a disadvantaged family can improve, both culturally and socially. We wanted to study the “trajectories”, the possible social paths that everyone can take during their life”.
From the analysis of these trajectories, it was possible to see how people who had a low socio-economic status during childhood, but who later achieved a good level of education and a better economic situation, had lower mortality risk than those who failed to improve. Additionally, life expectancy has become similar to that of those who started with a more comfortable childhood.
And it is a journey that can also go back, as Licia Iacoviello, director of the department and professor of hygiene and public health at the University of Insubria explains.
Another interesting aspect of the study is that subjects who had a good condition in childhood are likely to lose any advantage, in terms of survival, when they do not reach an adequate level of education. These data suggest that the socio-economic circumstances of the first phase of life, unfavorable or favorable, must be considered in the light of the subsequent evolution of individual socio-economic data.
Giovanni de Gaetano, President of Neuromed, said: “This is an interesting and very current extension of the concept of ‘social elevator’. Socio-economic disadvantage in childhood is not an unappealable sentence. Cultural and economic improvements can offset this initial negative situation. This study provides further scientific support for the need to strive for a truly democratic society.
According to many social scientists in Italy, in recent years the social ladder has stopped: those who are born poor remain poor; those born into a poorly educated family will not attain a high level of education. “It’s not just a problem for citizens’ quality of life: now we know it puts people’s health at risk,” he added.