Dissertation Abstracts

Socio-economic Differentials in the Impact of Life Course Transitions on Well-being

Author: Mandemakers, Jornt J, j.j.mandemakers@rug.nl
Department: Sociology
University: Tilburg University, Netherlands
Supervisor: Matthijs Kalmijn
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: life course transiti , well-being , socio-economic status , health inequality
Areas of Research: Mental Health and Illness , Stratification , Family Research


Background & Objectives:
Major setbacks in life affect well-being. This dissertation examines to what extent the impact of major life course transitions differs by socio-economic position. Relatively little research examines variability in the (psychological) effects of life course transitions. Most research focuses on average effects, but these may hide considerable heterogeneity; e.g. the impact of divorce is large for some, but small for others. Moreover, there is ample reason to expect that the impact of major setbacks depends on SES. A large body of research shows large socio-economic disparities in health. The main hypothesis was therefore: People who have a higher socio-economic status experience a smaller decrease in well-being following a major setback. Educational level was used as the main indicator of SES. As a secondary objective, I investigated what mechanisms could explain socio-economic variation.
More specifically, I investigated the impact of parental divorce, one’s own divorce, becoming disabled, involuntary job loss, and the death of a parent on psychological well-being. The dissertation consists of five studies that use large scale longitudinal datasets in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Main Findings:
For each of four transitions, parental divorce, one's own divorce, disability onset, and job loss, there were large differentials by SES. Those with a higher educational level and from a more advantaged family background suffered less. The socio-economic differentials were striking, in the range of a quarter of the main effect to more than the main effect. This conclusion is given more weight because for very different transitions and at different stages of the life course, I find that those with more socio-economic resources are better off.
The socio-economic variation, however, was limited to the four studies based on British data, and was for the Netherlands only confirmed for the impact of disability. There were large differences in design between these studies, so the lack of socio-economic variation in the Netherlands should not be taken for granted. Future research may establish whether socio-economic variation is as strong and prevalent in the Netherlands, as it is in the UK.

This dissertation contributes to the emergent body of research into variability in the consequences of life course transitions. The findings add to the growing understanding that life course transitions do not have uniform effects; instead the psychological impact of transitions is shaped by numerous factors. Previous research demonstrated that characteristics of the transition itself, such as the quality of the marriage for divorce, and personal characteristics, such as gender, are important. This dissertation shows that socio-economic variation is a key source of variation to consider as well.

The findings of this research advance our understanding of how social inequalities in health come about. We already know that people lower on the socio-economic ladder are more at risk of negative transitions, which may be an important reason for a widening social gradient in health over the life course. This dissertation gives the additional insight that people with fewer socio-economic resources are actually more vulnerable to these transitions as well.

URL to pdf of dissertation: http://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=121248

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