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Making the case for a life course approach: the impact of children’s health and wellbeing

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

One of the main tenets of life course theory refers to the idea that early life decisions, opportunities and conditions, affect outcomes later on. Applying this to the field of aging, taking a life course approach implies that developmental processes and environmental influences in childhoodimpact health in later life. In a way, the circumstances faced by children, ranging from health, to social and to economic, forge the pathway for the rest of their lives: shaping the opportunities and setbacks that they’ll face later in life. The accumulation of decisions, opportunities and setbacks in early life relating to health and nutrition, social interaction, living conditions, schooling, access to services, etc., influence the onset of health conditions, access to care, and resilience, therefore contributing to the health circumstances thatindividuals face in older age, both physically and mentally.

A breadth of research has investigated the association of early life health and wellbeing measures on health in older age. Brandt et al. (2012) found that higher parental socio-economic status, better math and reading skills as a child, and overall good childhood health were positively associated with successful aging later in line. Baranyiet al. (2019) investigated early childhood place-based protective and risk factors, finding that living in neighbourhoods with good access to services reduced the probability of having depression in later life. Angelini et al (2016) also found that children whose parents suffered from mental health issues were more likely to experience depression in late adulthood, partially explained by their childhood.

To combat the rising number of older individuals with care needs requiring some form of care and support, it’s necessary to look at what can be done in earlier life to help delay these transitions, namely by looking at child health and wellbeing.Targeting policy to improve children’s health and wellbeing early on in their lives has the potential to substantially reduce and even eliminate potential health issues later in life. As an extension of this, reducing and delaying health issues in later life holds the potential for reducing demand for long-term care, and therefore improving the current sustainability issues that plague dialogues on long-term care systems.

As the COORDINATE project aims to facilitate improved access to longitudinal survey data on child wellbeing as a way to inform evidence-based policymaking on children, the COORDINATE project is hosting Transnational Access Visits (TAV), which offer researchers the opportunity to access and work with datasets on child wellbeing in collaboration with participating research centers.

One dataset included in the TAVs is the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which is a pan-European longitudinal survey spanning 29 countries that has interviewed adults aged 50+ since 2004. Despite it primarily being a survey that focuses on older people, the two SHARELIFE modules, carried out in 2009 and 2017, contain retrospective information on childhood circumstances, allowing for this bridge between early and late life circumstances to be made. The SHARELIFE modules capture information on respondents’ childhood living situation, accommodation, health-status and conditions, health-care received and school performance. This poises SHARE to be a well-suited survey for comparatively investigating the impacts of early childhood circumstances on health, long-term care, and other topics in later life.

The next round of applications for the TAVs is soon to be launched! Keep an eye out for the announcement through our news page.


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