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Older adults' perspectives on key domains of childhood social and economic experiences and opportunities: a first step to creating a multidimensional measure.

  • Author(s): Yen, Irene H
  • Stewart, Anita L
  • Scherzer, Teresa
  • Pérez-Stable, Eliseo J
  • et al.
Abstract

Objectives

Although research has found that childhood socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with physical and mental health in mid- and later life, most of these studies used conventional, single dimension SES measures for the childhood period such as household income or educational attainment of parents. Life course and health disparities research would benefit from identification and measurement of a variety of childhood social and economic experiences and opportunities that might affect health in later life.

Design

This study utilized qualitative research methods to identify key dimensions of childhood experiences related to SES. We conducted in-depth interviews with 25 adults age 55 to 80 years from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds. Topics included home, neighborhood, school, and work experiences during early childhood and adolescence. Interviews were audio-taped and transcripts were coded to identify thematic domains.

Results

We identified eight thematic domains, many of which had clear subdomains: home and family circumstances, neighborhood, work and money, potential for advancement through schooling, school quality and content, discrimination, influence and support of adults, and leisure activities. These domains highlight individual characteristics and experiences and also economic and educational opportunities.

Conclusion

These domains of childhood social and economic circumstances add breadth and depth to conventional conceptualization of childhood SES. When the domains are translated into a measurement tool, it will allow for the possibility of classifying people along multiple dimensions, such as from a low economic circumstance with high levels of adult support.

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