The biological embedding of social differences in ageing trajectories

Volume 70, Issue 2
Publication date: 
November, 2015

Paolo Vineis, Michelle Kelly-Irving, Stephen Rappaport, Silvia Stringhini

The occurrence of adult disease is related to lifetime experiences and, at least in part, to early life events. It is now well established that socioeconomic circumstances across the lifetime are major determinants of adult health and disease, and the current economic crisis is amplifying susceptibility to disease and unhealthy ageing in disadvantaged subgroups of the population. In adulthood, the gap between social groups is extensive in terms of mortality, functional performances and cognitive capacity. Since the occurrence of adult disease is related to lifetime experiences, including early life exposures, late-life preventive efforts may be of limited efficacy, particularly in disadvantaged subgroups. We now have the analytical tools to understand mechanisms that underlie life-long susceptibility to unhealthy ageing, and new knowledge can lead to better and more effective mechanisms to prevent diseases and reduce health inequalities. In this perspective, we first discuss the impact of recent changes in the understanding of chronic disease aetiology on our interpretation of the influence of life-course socioeconomic status (SES) on health and ageing. We then propose a model for integrating the exposome concept (the myriad of exposures derived from exogenous and endogenous sources) into the analysis of life-course socioeconomic differentials in ageing.