Disadvantage, originating in one's residential context or in one's past life course, has been shown to impact on health in adulthood. There is however little research on the accumulated health impact of both neighbourhood and individual conditions over the life course. This study aims to examine whether the accumulation of contextual and individual disadvantages from adolescence to middle-age predicts functional somatic symptoms (FSS) in middle-age, taking baseline health into account.
The sample is the age 16, 21, 30 and 42 surveys of the prospective Northern Swedish Cohort, with analytical sample size n = 910 (85% of the original cohort). FSS at age 16 and 42, and cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage, social adversity and material adversity between 16 and 42 years were operationalized from questionnaires, and cumulative neighbourhood disadvantage between 16 and 42 years from register data.
Results showed accumulation of disadvantages jointly explained 9-12% of FSS variance. In the total sample, cumulative neighbourhood and socioeconomic disadvantage significantly predicted FSS at age 42 in the total sample. In women, neighbourhood disadvantage but not socioeconomic disadvantage contributed significantly, whereas in men, socioeconomic but not neighbourhood disadvantage contributed significantly. In all analyses, associations were largely explained by the parallel accumulation of social and material adversities, but not by symptoms at baseline.
In conclusion, the accumulation of diverse forms of disadvantages together plays an important role for somatic complaints in adulthood, independently of baseline health.