The influence of parents' and partner's education on own health behaviours

Gang Chen, Jan Abel Olsen, Admassu N. Lamu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The link between educational attainment and multiple health behaviours has been explained in various ways. This paper provides new insights into the social patterning in health behaviours by investigating the influence of parents' and partners' educational attainments on a composite indicator that integrates the four commonly studied lifestyle behaviours (smoking, alcohol, physical activity and BMI). Two key outcome indicators of interests were created to reflect both ends of the “healthy – unhealthy spectrum”. Data was drawn from The Tromsø Study, conducted in 2015/16 (N = 21,083, aged 40–93 years). We controlled for two indicators of early life human capital and one personality trait variable. Partners' education attainments are relatively more important for avoiding unhealthy behaviour than choosing healthy behaviour; on the contrary, parents' education is more important for healthy behaviour. Heterogeneity by sex and age was also evident. The influences of partner's education on widening the socioeconomic contrasts in health behaviours were much stronger in the younger (40–59 years) age group. In conclusion, our results support the hypothesis that own health behaviour is affected by the educational attainments of our ‘nearest and dearest’ (i.e. spouse, mother, and father), net of own education. This study facilitates a better understanding of education-health behaviours nexus from a life course perspective and supports the importance of family-based interventions to improve healthy behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116581
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Health behaviours
  • Healthy lifestyle index
  • Norway
  • Parents' education
  • Spousal education

Cite this