Age and Ageing

Sean A. P. Clouston, Jennifer A. Manganello*, and Marcus Richards



Objective: social inequalities in health are believed to arise in part because individuals make use of social and economic resources in order to improve survival. In recent years, health literacy has received increased attention as a factor that can help explain differences in health outcomes. However, examination of life course predictors of health literacy has been limited.
Methods: life course data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study 1957–2011 were used to examine predictors of health literacy in old age (N = 2,122), using the Newest Vital Sign. Generalised structural equation modelling was used to model pathways to health literacy.
Results: predictors of health literacy included educational attainment, and adolescent cognitive and non-cognitive skills, and, in men, rate of cognitive decline from middle to later life.
Discussion: numerous studies have documented health literacy issues among older adults, and recommendations have been made for ways to improve health literacy for this population. This study reports on risk factors across the life course that are associated with health literacy later in life, identifying possible intervention targets to reduce risk of poor health as people age. Our results suggest that a range of life course factors, beginning in early life, predict health literacy. Further research studying health literacy over the life course is warranted.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff