Background: Socioeconomic inequalities in health behaviors have been attributed to both structural and individual factors, but untangling the complex, dynamic pathways through which these factors influence inequalities requires more empirical research. This study examined whether and how two factors, material conditions and time orientation, sequentially impact socioeconomic inequalities in health behaviors. Methods: Dutch adults 25 and older self-reported highest attained educational level, a measure of socioeconomic position (SEP); material conditions (financial strain, housing tenure, income); time orientation; health behaviors including smoking and sports participation; and health behavior-related outcomes including body mass index (BMI) and self-assessed health in three surveys (2004, 2011, 2014) of the longitudinal GLOBE (Dutch acronym for “Health and Living Conditions of the Population of Eindhoven and surroundings”) study. Two hypothesized pathways were investigated during a ten-year time period using sequential mediation analysis, an approach that enabled correct temporal ordering and control for confounders such as baseline health behavior. Results: Educational level was negatively associated with BMI, positively associated with sports participation and self-assessed health, and not associated with smoking in the mediation models. For smoking, sports participation, and self-assessed health, a pathway from educational level to the outcome mediated by time orientation followed by material conditions was observed. Conclusions: Time orientation followed by material conditions may play a role in determining socioeconomic inequalities in certain health behavior-related outcomes, providing empirical support for the interplay between structural and individual factors in socioeconomic inequalities in health behavior. Smoking may be determined by prior smoking behavior regardless of SEP, potentially due to its addictive nature. While intervening on time orientation in adulthood may be challenging, the results from this study suggest that policy interventions targeted at material conditions may be more effective in reducing socioeconomic inequalities in certain health behaviors when they account for time orientation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
ALM, SEV, and CBMK were supported by the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme (Vl.Vidi.198.001), financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The funding body had no role in the design of the study; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; or in writing the manuscript.
© 2021, The Author(s).