Childhood conditions and productive aging in China

Pei Chun Ko, Wei Jun Jean Yeung

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15 Citations (Scopus)


We investigate the impacts of childhood conditions on productive aging in China. Productive aging is defined as engagement in working, caring, and socially productive activities (volunteering, informal helping, etc.). Two theoretical frameworks are examined: (1) the pathway model that emphasizes later life health and socioeconomic conditions are related to dis(advantages) starting from childhood, and (2) the latency model that illustrates childhood experiences directly affect productive engagement due to biomedical influences or values and preferences formed during childhood. The 2011, 2013 and 2014 China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Studies (CHARLS) were used as these data sets provide both contemporaneous and retrospective information. The analytic sample consists of 5818 respondents aged 55 and above. We conduct multilevel analyses and path models to estimate the effects of childhood conditions, including family background (hukou – household registration - status and parents' education), neighborhood cohesion, subjective health and nutrition. Individual and family contemporaneous characteristics and clustered data structure were controlled for. The results largely support a pathway model in that childhood health and nutrition affect the likelihood of productive activities in later life through their influence on cognition and disabilities in old age. Moreover, family background and neighborhood cohesion are associated with productive activities via the effects through mid-life work, later life cognition, and disabilities. Results also provide some support for the latency model through the direct effect of neighborhood cohesion on socially productive activities, highlighting the importance of values formed in early life in shaping the motivations of productive engagement in later life. To conclude, we demonstrate that better childhood health, an advantaged family background, and values of helping others instilled in childhood affect older adults' productive engagement. Policies should be put in place to reduce socioeconomic disadvantages in childhood and also to cultivate cohesive community environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-69
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood health and nutrition
  • China
  • Family socioeconomic status
  • Neighborhood
  • Productive aging

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