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Neighborhoods and disability in later life


  • Freedman, Vicki A.
  • Grafova, Irina B.
  • Schoeni, Robert F.
  • Rogowski, Jeannette


This paper uses the US Health and Retirement Study to explore linkages between neighborhood conditions and stages of the disablement process among adults aged 55 years and older in the United States. We consider multiple dimensions of the neighborhood including the built environment as well as social and economic conditions. In doing so, we use factor analysis to reduce indicators into eight neighborhood scales, which we incorporate into two-level logistic regression models along with controls for individual-level factors. We find evidence that economic conditions and the built environment, but not social conditions, matter. Neighborhood economic advantage is associated with a reduced risk of lower body limitations for both men and women. We also find for men that neighborhood economic disadvantage is linked to increased chances of reporting personal care limitations, particularly for those aged 55-64 years, and that high connectivity of the built environment is associated with reduced risk of limitations in instrumental activities. Our findings highlight the distinctive benefits of neighborhood economic advantage early in the disablement process. In addition, findings underscore the need for attention in the design and evaluation of disability-prevention efforts to the benefits that accrue from more physically connected communities and to the potential harm that may arise in later life from living in economically disadvantaged areas.

Suggested Citation

  • Freedman, Vicki A. & Grafova, Irina B. & Schoeni, Robert F. & Rogowski, Jeannette, 2008. "Neighborhoods and disability in later life," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(11), pages 2253-2267, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:66:y:2008:i:11:p:2253-2267

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    3. Charles F. Manski, 1993. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: The Reflection Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(3), pages 531-542.
    4. Bowling, Ann & Stafford, Mai, 2007. "How do objective and subjective assessments of neighbourhood influence social and physical functioning in older age? Findings from a British survey of ageing," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(12), pages 2533-2549, June.
    5. Lin, Ge, 2000. "Regional assessment of elderly disability in the U.S," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 50(7-8), pages 1015-1024, April.
    6. Stuck, Andreas E. & Walthert, Jutta M. & Nikolaus, Thorsten & Büla, Christophe J. & Hohmann, Christoph & Beck, John C., 1999. "Risk factors for functional status decline in community-living elderly people: a systematic literature review," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 445-469, February.
    7. Stafford, M. & Cummins, S. & Macintyre, S. & Ellaway, A. & Marmot, M., 2005. "Gender differences in the associations between health and neighbourhood environment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(8), pages 1681-1692, April.
    8. Evans, William N & Oates, Wallace E & Schwab, Robert M, 1992. "Measuring Peer Group Effects: A Study of Teenage Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 966-991, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Clarke, Philippa & Ailshire, Jennifer A. & Lantz, Paula, 2009. "Urban built environments and trajectories of mobility disability: Findings from a national sample of community-dwelling American adults (1986-2001)," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(6), pages 964-970, September.
    2. Laraia, Barbara A. & Karter, Andrew J. & Warton, E. Margaret & Schillinger, Dean & Moffet, Howard H. & Adler, Nancy, 2012. "Place matters: Neighborhood deprivation and cardiometabolic risk factors in the Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE)," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(7), pages 1082-1090.
    3. Walsh, Kieran & Gannon, Brenda, 2011. "Perceived neighbourhood context, disability onset and old age," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(5), pages 631-636.
    4. Rosenthal, Larry A., 2009. "Local Land-Use Controls and Aging-Friendliness," Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy, Working Paper Series qt8r15z60d, Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy.
    5. Michael, Yvonne L. & Nagel, Corey L. & Gold, Rachel & Hillier, Teresa A., 2014. "Does change in the neighborhood environment prevent obesity in older women?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 129-137.
    6. Samuel, Laura J. & Glass, Thomas A. & Thorpe, Roland J. & Szanton, Sarah L. & Roth, David L., 2015. "Household and neighborhood conditions partially account for associations between education and physical capacity in the National Health and Aging Trends Study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 67-75.
    7. DUJARDIN, Claire & lorant, VINCENT & THOMAS, Isabelle, 2013. "Self-assessed health of elderly people in Brussels: does the built environment matter?," CORE Discussion Papers 2013048, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    8. Wen, Ming & Maloney, Thomas N., 2014. "Neighborhood socioeconomic status and BMI differences by immigrant and legal status: Evidence from Utah," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 120-131.
    9. Botticello, Amanda L. & Chen, Yuying & Tulsky, David S., 2012. "Geographic variation in participation for physically disabled adults: The contribution of area economic factors to employment after spinal cord injury," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1505-1513.
    10. Schafer, Markus H. & Upenieks, Laura, 2015. "Environmental disorder and functional decline among older adults: A layered context approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 152-161.

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