Socio-economic position and subjective health and well-being among older people in Europe: a systematic narrative review

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OBJECTIVES: Previous studies of older European populations have established that disability and morbidity vary with indicators of socio-economic position (SEP). We undertook a systematic narrative review of the literature to ascertain to what extent there is evidence of similar inequalities in the subjective health and well-being of older people in Europe.

METHOD: Relevant original research articles were searched for using Medline, Global Health, Embase, Social Policy and Practice, Cinahl, Web of Science and International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS). We included studies of SEP and indicators of subjective health and well-being (self-rated health; life satisfaction; quality of life) conducted since 1991 using population-based samples of older people in Europe and published 1995-2013.

RESULTS: A total of 71 studies were identified. Poorer SEP was associated with poorer subjective health and well-being. Associations varied somewhat depending on the SEP measure and subjective health and well-being outcome used. Associations were weaker when social support and health-related behaviours were adjusted for suggesting that these factors mediate the relationship between SEP and subjective health and well-being. Associations tended to be weaker in the oldest age groups. The patterns of associations by gender were not consistent and tended to diminish after adjusting for indicators of health and life circumstances.

CONCLUSION: The results of this systematic narrative review of the literature demonstrate the importance of social influences on later life subjective health and well-being and indicate areas which need further investigation, such as more studies from Eastern Europe, more longitudinal studies and more research on the role of mediating factors.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAging & Mental Health
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)529-542
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

ID: 154183466