Education and health across lives and cohorts: a study of cumulative advantage in Germany

Liliya Leopold, European University Institute
Thomas Leopold, University of Amsterdam

The cumulative advantage hypothesis predicts health gaps across educational levels to widen with age. A recent addition, the rising importance hypothesis, further posits that this relationship has intensified across cohorts. Longitudinal evidence in support of both hypotheses is largely limited to the United States. German studies – mainly based on cross-sectional designs – have reported health gaps to remain stable or even to converge with age. This study presents more rigorous tests for the hypotheses of cumulative advantage and rising importance in the German context. The analysis draws on longitudinal data from 23 waves (1992 – 2014) of the German Socio-economic Panel Study (N = 4,648 respondents comprising 67,067 panel observations) to disentangle age and cohort effects on trajectories of self-rated health. Results show that health gaps between higher and lower educated people widen with age. Further analyses reveal that this divergence is gender-specific. Among women, health gaps are relatively small and remain stable over the life course. Among men, educational health inequality is profoundly – and increasingly – shaped by processes of cumulative advantage.

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Presented in Session 63: Health and education