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Persistent and growing socioeconomic disparities in disability among the elderly: 1982-2002


  • Schoeni, R.F.
  • Martin, L.G.
  • Andreski, P.M.
  • Freedman, V.A.


Objective. We sought to determine whether socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in prevalence of disability over age 70 have widened or narrowed during the past 2 decades. Methods. We used data from the 1982-2002 National Health Interview Surveys, which are nationally representative cross-sectional surveys of the noninstitutionalized population of the United States. Participants included 172227 people aged 70 years and older. The primary outcome measure was the average annual percentage change in the prevalence of 2 self-reported disability measures: the need for help with activities of daily living ("ADL disability") and need for help with either ADL or instrumental activities of daily living ("any disability"). Results. All groups experienced declines in the age- and gender-adjusted prevalence of any disability during the 1982 to 2002 period. However, the average annual percent declines were smaller for the least advantaged socioeconomic groups. Differences in trends across racial/ethnic groups were not statistically significant. ADL disability prevalence decreased for the more advantaged groups but increased among the lowest income and education groups. Non-Hispanic Whites and minorities experienced similar average annual percent declines in ADL disability. Conclusions. Racial/ethnic disparities in old-age disability have persisted over the last 20 years, whereas socioeconomic disparities have increased.

Suggested Citation

  • Schoeni, R.F. & Martin, L.G. & Andreski, P.M. & Freedman, V.A., 2005. "Persistent and growing socioeconomic disparities in disability among the elderly: 1982-2002," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 95(11), pages 2065-2070.
  • Handle: RePEc:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2004.048744_6
    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.048744

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    Cited by:

    1. Steen Bengtsson & Nabanita Datta Gupta, 2017. "Identifying the effects of education on the ability to cope with a disability among individuals with disabilities," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 12(3), pages 1-13, March.
    2. Stefan Fors & Mats Thorslund, 2015. "Enduring inequality: educational disparities in health among the oldest old in Sweden 1992–2011," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 60(1), pages 91-98, January.
    3. Lorenti, Angelo & Dudel, Christian & Hale, Jo Mhairi & Myrskylä, Mikko, 2020. "Working and disability expectancies at older ages: the role of childhood circumstances and education," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 106194, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Zheng, Hui & George, Linda K., 2012. "Rising U.S. income inequality and the changing gradient of socioeconomic status on physical functioning and activity limitations, 1984–2007," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2170-2182.
    5. Freedman, Vicki A. & Martin, Linda G. & Schoeni, Robert F. & Cornman, Jennifer C., 2008. "Declines in late-life disability: The role of early- and mid-life factors," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(7), pages 1588-1602, April.
    6. Anna Zajacova & Jennifer Karas Montez & Pamela Herd, 2014. "Socioeconomic Disparities in Health Among Older Adults and the Implications for the Retirement Age Debate: A Brief Report," The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, The Gerontological Society of America, vol. 69(6), pages 973-978.
    7. Kim, Younoh & Knowles, Scott & Manley, James & Radoias, Vlad, 2017. "Long-run health consequences of air pollution: Evidence from Indonesia's forest fires of 1997," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 186-198.
    8. Lamu, Admassu N. & Chen, Gang & Olsen, Jan Abel, 2023. "Amplified disparities: The association between spousal education and own health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 323(C).
    9. Bowen, Mary Elizabeth, 2009. "Childhood socioeconomic status and racial differences in disability: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2006)," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 433-441, August.
    10. Hui Zheng, 2020. "Unobserved population heterogeneity and dynamics of health disparities," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 43(34), pages 1009-1048.
    11. Golberstein Ezra & Hirth Richard A. & Lantz Paula M., 2012. "Estimating the Education-Health Relationship: A Cost-Utility Approach," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(3), pages 1-27, March.
    12. Michael Chernew & David M. Cutler & Kaushik Ghosh & Mary Beth Landrum, 2016. "Understanding the Improvement in Disability-Free Life Expectancy in the US Elderly Population," NBER Chapters, in: Insights in the Economics of Aging, pages 161-201, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. HwaJung Choi & Robert F Schoeni & Linda G Martin, 2016. "Are Functional and Activity Limitations Becoming More Prevalent among 55 to 69-Year-Olds in the United States?," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 11(10), pages 1-14, October.
    14. Ahmad Reza Hosseinpoor & Nicole Bergen & Nenad Kostanjsek & Paul Kowal & Alana Officer & Somnath Chatterji, 2016. "Socio-demographic patterns of disability among older adult populations of low-income and middle-income countries: results from World Health Survey," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 61(3), pages 337-345, April.
    15. Sascha de Breij & Martijn Huisman & Dorly J H Deeg, 2020. "Work characteristics and health in older workers: Educational inequalities," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 15(10), pages 1-11, October.
    16. John Robert Warren, 2016. "Does Growing Childhood Socioeconomic Inequality Mean Future Inequality in Adult Health?," The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, , vol. 663(1), pages 292-330, January.
    17. Linda G. Martin, 2009. "Interventions to Improve Late Life," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 35(2), pages 331-340, June.
    18. Jan D Reinhardt & Erik von Elm & Christine Fekete & Johannes Siegrist, 2012. "Social Inequalities of Functioning and Perceived Health in Switzerland–A Representative Cross-Sectional Analysis," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 7(6), pages 1-7, June.

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