OBJECTIVES: We used a life course approach to assess the ways in which childhood socioeconomic position may be associated with disability in later life.
METHODS: We used longitudinal data from the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study (1998-2006) to examine associations between parental education, paternal occupation, and disabilities relating to activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).
RESULTS: Respondents whose fathers had low levels of education and those whose fathers were absent or had died while they were growing up were at increased risk of disability in later life, net of social, behavioral, and pathological health risks in adulthood. Social mobility and health behaviors were also important factors in the association between low childhood socioeconomic position and ADL and IADL disabilities.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings highlight the need for policies and programs aimed at improving the well-being of both children and families. A renewed commitment to such initiatives may help reduce health care costs and the need for people to use health and social services in later life.