Early parental loss, socioeconomic stressors, and health in later life: Evidence for gender disparity

Rong Fu, Purdue University


Drawing from the stress process model and the cumulative disadvantage theory, this dissertation examined how childhood and later life stressors affected cognitive and subjective health in older adults. Using three main articles, this dissertation investigated (1) the effect of early parental loss on cognitive well-being in Chinese oldest old; (2) the effect of intergenerational socioeconomic mobility on cognitive and subjective health in advanced age; and (3) the effect of different dimensions of socioeconomic status and perceived financial strain on subjective health in later life. Data were derived from the 2002 and 2005 waves of the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey. Ordinary least squares models and logistic regression models were used to estimate the stress-health association. Key findings of this dissertation include (1) losing a mother in early life predicted worse cognitive function in oldest old men; (2) experiencing downward intergenerational socioeconomic mobility was detrimental to cognitive and subjective health in advanced age, especially in oldest old women; and (3) perceived financial strain was associated with an elevated risk of reporting poor health for both urban and rural inhabitants. Findings of this dissertation suggest that traumatic events in early life and socioeconomic stressors in later life both exact a toll on Chinese older adults’ health, independent of their demographic characteristics and physical health conditions. This dissertation has policy implications for gender-specific healthcare.




Anderson, Purdue University.

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