Life stage-specific trends in educational inequalities in health-related quality of life and self-rated health between 2002 and 2016 in Germany: findings from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (GSOEP).
While evidence suggests persisting health inequalities, research on whether these trends may vary according to different stages of life has rarely been considered. Against this backdrop, we analysed life stage-specific trends in educational inequalities in health-related quality of life (HRQOL) and poor self-rated health (SRH) for individuals in 'later working life' (50-64 years), 'young seniors' (65-79 years) and persons of 'old age' (80+ years).
We used survey data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study comprising the period from 2002 to 2016. The sample consists of 26 074 respondents (160 888 person-years) aged 50 years and older. Health was assessed using the mental and physical component summary scale (MCS/PCS) of the HRQOL questionnaire (12-Item Short Form Health Survey V.2) and the single item SRH. To estimate educational health inequalities, we calculated the regression-based Slope Index of Inequality (SII) and Relative Index of Inequality (RII). Time trends in inequalities were assessed by the inclusion of a two-way interaction term between school education and time.
With increasing age, educational inequalities in PCS and poor SRH decreased whereas they rose in MCS. Over time, health inequalities decreased in men aged 65-79 years (MCSSII=2.76, 95% CI 0.41 to 5.11; MCSRII=1.05, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.10; PCSSII=2.12, 95% CI -0.27to 4.51; PCSRII=1.05, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.11; poor SRHSII=-0.10, 95% CI -0.19 to 0.01; poor SRHRII=0.73, 95% CI 0.48 to 1.13) and among women of that age for MCS (MCSSII=2.82, 95% CI 0.16 to 5.50; MCSRII=1.06, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.12). In contrast, health inequalities widened in the 'later working life' among women (PCSSII=-2.98, 95% CI -4.86 to -1.11; PCSRII=0.94, 95% CI 0.90 to 0.98; poor SRHSII=0.07, 95% CI 0.00 to 0.14) while remained largely stable at old age for both genders.
We found distinctive patterns of health inequality trends depending on gender and life stage. Our findings suggest to adopt a differentiated view on health inequality trends and to pursue research that explores their underlying determinants.