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Does having highly educated adult children reduce mortality risks for parents with low educational attainment in Europe?

  • Albert Sabater (a1), Elspeth Graham (a1) and Alan Marshall (a2)


It is known that the education of significant others may affect an individual's mortality. This paper extends an emerging body of research by investigating the effect of having highly educated adult children on the longevity of older parents in Europe, especially parents with low educational attainment. Using a sample of 15,015 individuals (6,620 fathers and 8,395 mothers) aged 50 and above, with 1,847 recorded deaths, over a mean follow-up period of 10.9 years from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), we examine whether the well-established socio-economic gradient in mortality among parents is modified when their adult children have higher educational attainment than their parents. We find that having highly educated adult children is associated with reduced mortality risks for fathers and mothers with low educational attainment, compared to their counterparts whose adult children have only compulsory education. The association is stronger in early older age (ages 50–74) than in later older age (ages 75 and over). Part of the association appears to be explained by health behaviours (physical (in)activity) and health status (self-rated health). Our findings suggest that the socio-economic–mortality gradient among older parents might be better captured using an intergenerational approach that recognises the advantage of having highly educated adult children, especially for fathers and mothers with only compulsory education.

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