BASE-Publications: Abstracts

Mayer, K. U., Maas, I., & Wagner, M. (1999). Socioeconomic conditions and social inequalities in old age. In P. B. Baltes & K. U. Mayer (Eds.), The Berlin Aging Study: Aging from 70 to 100 (pp. 227-255). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In this chapter we examine the social and economic life circumstances of old and very old people in West Berlin,1 and the ways different socioeconomic resources influence social participation and aspects of physical and mental health. Information on education, occupational position, household income, housing conditions, forms of household, social activities, and media consumption are analyzed. Three hypotheses about socioeconomic differentiation and its consequences are examined: (a) The hypothesis of age-relatedness, where socioeconomic factors lose importance in comparison to age-related conditions such as health; (b) the hypothesis of socioeconomic continuity, which suggests that socioeconomic differences continue to influence life-styles and activities in old age; and (c) the cumulation hypothesis, where the impact of socioeconomic differentiation increases in old age.
In this study, we mainly find age-associated differences in social activities and social participation, both of which are highly related to health status. In these cases, socioeconomic resources can only partially compensate for health impairments. Until the move into a senior citizens' home, stability in income and housing conditions is found, reflecting the social position attained before retirement. Thus, in terms of the economic situation, age does not discriminate between individuals. Only with regard to utilization of care, can we confirm the cumulation hypothesis, where socioeconomic inequality in old age becomes more pronounced: Members (mostly male) of higher social classes are rarely institutionalized and are more likely to be cared for at home. Surprisingly, indicators of somatic and mental health in old age -- with the exception of dementia -- show only slight differences between social classes.