Few follow-up studies have investigated psychosomatic health and socioeconomic status (SES) and associations between them at different life stages. The aim of this study was to investigate differences in psychosomatic symptoms by SES in adolescence, early adulthood and adulthood and to examine whether lower SES leads to higher levels of symptoms (social causation) or higher levels of symptoms to lower SES (health selection) or both.
All 16-year-old ninth-grade school pupils of one Finnish city completed questionnaires at school. Subjects were followed up using postal questionnaires when aged 22 and 32 years.
Females reported significantly higher scores of psychosomatic symptoms than males at 16, 22 and 32 years of age. Higher rates of psychosomatic symptoms were found among females of manual class origin at 16 years. In addition, at 22 years, both females and males with only comprehensive school education and, at 32 years, those who worked in manual jobs had higher scores of symptoms. When low SES both as a cause and consequence of symptoms was investigated, the findings supported both these paths among females and more the health selection among males. In both genders, especially the path from psychosomatic symptoms in adolescence to lower education in early adulthood was strong.
The results highlight the need of greater consideration of psychosomatic symptoms, particularly in adolescence, in later socioeconomic outcomes.