The Role of Education in Managing Chronic Illnesses and Its Effects on Quality of Life
Sociology Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences Mannheim, Germany
Although old age is not necessarily associated with a decline in health, chronic illnesses ? often in a co- and multimorbid form ? are common ailments in later life. Gerontological research suggests that physical morbidity is among the most important causes for the development of functional limitations. Research has also shown that the development of chronic illnesses in old age is closely linked to socioeconomic status. Better-educated and more affluent citizens are less likely to develop chronic illnesses. Consequently, higher socioeconomic status helps maintain a better quality of life by decreasing the risk of morbidity.
While previous research established this relationship, it stopped short of investigating the effect socioeconomic status has once an illness is present. This research remedies this shortcoming by examining the effect socioeconomic status has on the extent to which an illness reduces the quality of life. This paper argues that socioeconomic status, approximated by an individual?s educational attainment, provides crucial resources that can be employed to manage chronic illnesses. Specifically, patients with higher education have more social support, are more effective at navigating healthcare systems, and are more capable in adjusting day-to-day activities to match the limitations of their illness.
Using the second wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement (SHARE), I analyzed the influence of education on the existence of functional limitations for groups with different numbers of chronic illnesses. Consistent with previous studies, the results show a lower prevalence of functional limitations for persons with higher levels of education. These inequalities could be a result of different levels of morbidity. However, the effect of education does not only persist but increases after adjusting for the number of chronic illnesses. Inequality is therefore highest when people suffer from two or more chronic illnesses and lowest when they have no chronic condition. These results indicate that although chronic illness reduces the quality of life, this loss is moderated by socioeconomic status. Consequently, better-educated Europeans maintain a higher quality of life, not only by reducing the risk of morbidity but also by better managing existing conditions, especially when they occur as co- and multimorbidities.