Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Logo des Instituts für Medizinische Soziologie

Further settings

Login for editors

Working group ‘Life Course Research’

Working group leader

Dr. Anja Knöchelmann

Current projects

  • Explaining health inequalities in adulthood. A life course perspective using the German Socioeconomic Panel study (SOEP)
  • The importance of the compositional, contextual and institutional features of the school environment for health and well-being along the school career (NEPS)
  • Social mobility and health inequalities (HBS)

What is Life Course Research?

The individuals’ health does not only depend on their current situation. In fact, throughout the life course a broad variety of factors and events exist, whose impact on people’s health can be observed many years later. For instance, studies have shown that factors and events occurring in the fetal phase might have an impact on health in later life. Alcohol and nicotine are certainly among the most well-known factors, which can not only cause a lower birth weight or premature births, but can also cause further health damages, which may only become visible in adulthood. In life course research, it is assumed that in addition to biological factors, social processes are also decisive. Discrimination in critical periods, which include childhood and adolescence next to the fetal phase, as well as the accumulation of (social) disadvantages and social mobility, play a significant role. Those effects in health can be found both in terms of subjective rating of health as well as the manifestation of illnesses.

The research on health inequalities distinguishes two possible relations: While the causal hypothesis assumes that social, material or physical factors lead to poorer health, the selection hypothesis describes the impact of ill health on social, material or physical factors. In other words: Do disadvantages lead to a poorer health (causal hypothesis) or does poor health lead to disadvantages (selection hypothesis)? Since life course research focuses on the development of health and social factors over a longer period of time, statements about causation and selection are more likely to be made. In international studies, evidence supports the causal hypothesis. In Germany so far it is not possible to make an assertion about this, due to a lack of longitudinal data.

Focus at the IMS

At present, the working group Life Course Research explores the contribution of various life course processes on the explanation of health inequalities in younger and middle age. For this purpose, social mobility as well as timing, duration and sequence of disadvantages are taken into consideration. In addition, the group aims at determining mediating factors. On this basis, recommendations can be developed as to which preventive measures can be taken in childhood in order to ensure health in later life.

Up