Examining Cumulative Inequality in the Association between Childhood SES and BMI from Midlife to Old Age

Lee, Chioun and Soojin Park, In press, Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences. [Journal Link]

Socioeconomic status (SES) is among the strongest determinants of body mass index (BMI), particularly for women. For older populations, selection bias due to attrition is a large barrier to assessing the accumulation of inequality. Under multiple missing data mechanisms, we investigated the extent to which childhood and midlife SES affects BMI from midlife to old age and gender differences in the association.

Data come from a longitudinal national study of 2,345 U.S. adults aged 40-54 at baseline. We used latent growth models to estimate BMI trajectory over a period of 20 years. We examined results under different missing data patterns and applied methods that account for nonrandom-selection bias.

Compared to individuals who had higher childhood SES, individuals who had lower childhood SES have higher BMI in midlife and experience a faster increase in BMI between midlife and old age. The observed associations remain significant even after controlling for midlife SES. After addressing nonrandom selection, the gap in BMI between high and low childhood SES widens from midlife to old age for women.

The findings provide new evidence of cumulative inequality among older adults, documenting increasing BMI inequality from midlife to old age, particularly for women from low SES families.