Abstract

Inequalities in older adults’ health rarely consider life-course aspects of socioeconomic status (SES). We examined the association between lifelong SES and old-age health trajectories, and explored the role of lifestyle factors and depressive symptoms in this association. We followed 2760 adults aged 60+ from the Swedish National Study on Care and Aging, Kungsholmen. SES groups were derived using latent class analysis incorporating seven socioeconomic measures spanning childhood, midlife, and late life. We measured health using the Health Assessment Tool, which combines gait speed, cognition, multimorbidity, and disability. Linear mixed models were used to estimate health trajectories. Four SES groups were identified: High (34.9%), Middle (40.2%), Low (21.2%), and Mixed (3.8%). The Mixed group reported greater financial difficulties in childhood and older age, but varying SES attainment in midlife. Baseline health scores indicated that Mixed SES experienced substantial cognitive and physical deficits 12 years earlier than the High SES group. Compared to the High SES group, the Mixed SES group had the fastest health deterioration (β×time=−0.07, 95% CI:−0.11,−0.02); other groups followed a gradient (High>Middle>Low). Lifestyle factors and depressive symptoms attenuated the gradient but did not explain Mixed group’s health disadvantage. Life-long SES measures are crucial for understanding older adults’ health inequalities.