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The Black-White difference in age trajectories of functional health over the life course

Listed author(s):
  • Kim, Jinyoung
  • Miech, Richard

This study examines whether the racial disparity in functional health grows unabated over the adult life course - the cumulative disadvantage hypothesis - or shrinks among the oldest old - the age-as-leveler hypothesis. Special emphasis is placed on the role of socioeconomic status (SES), which is highly associated with race. The analysis uses latent growth-curve modeling to examine differences in age trajectories of functional health between Black and White Americans and is based on nationally representative panel data of 3497 adults. Results cautiously support the age-as-leveler hypothesis. Net of functional health at baseline, Black adults experience a growing disadvantage in functional health over time until the oldest ages, when the gap in functional health begins to shrink. Results indicate that the potential leveling mechanisms of age may be specific to women. SES including financial assets explains the divergence in functional health across young and middle-aged Black and White adults, but not the later-life convergence. This study reveals the life-course pattern of racial disparity in functional health and suggests that more theoretical development is needed in this field to explain why the age-as-leveler and cumulative disadvantage processes are different for functional health than for other outcomes.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

Volume (Year): 68 (2009)
Issue (Month): 4 (February)
Pages: 717-725

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Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:68:y:2009:i:4:p:717-725
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  1. Verbrugge, Lois M. & Jette, Alan M., 1994. "The disablement process," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 1-14, January.
  2. Jessica A. Kelley-Moore & Kenneth F. Ferraro, 2004. "The Black/White Disability Gap: Persistent Inequality in Later Life?," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 59(1), pages 34-43.
  3. Dale Dannefer, 2003. "Cumulative Advantage/Disadvantage and the Life Course: Cross-Fertilizing Age and Social Science Theory," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 58(6), pages 327-337.
  4. Matthew Dupre & Alexis Franzese & Emilio Parrado, 2006. "Religious attendance and mortality: Implications for the black-white mortality crossover," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 43(1), pages 141-164, February.
  5. Kenneth F. Ferraro & Roland J. Thorpe & George P. McCabe & Jessica A. Kelley-Moore & Zhen Jiang, 2006. "The Color of Hospitalization Over the Adult Life Course: Cumulative Disadvantage in Black and White?," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 61(6), pages 299-306.
  6. Mark Hayward & Melonie Heron, 1999. "Racial inequality in active life among adult americans," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 36(1), pages 77-91, February.
  7. Scott Lynch, 2003. "Cohort and life-course patterns in the relationship between education and health: A hierarchical approach," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 40(2), pages 309-331, May.
  8. 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.
  9. Kim, Jinyoung & Durden, Emily, 2007. "Socioeconomic status and age trajectories of health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(12), pages 2489-2502, December.
  10. Thorpe Jr., Roland James & Kasper, Judith D. & Szanton, Sarah L. & Frick, Kevin D. & Fried, Linda P. & Simonsick, Eleanor M., 2008. "Relationship of race and poverty to lower extremity function and decline: Findings from the women's health and aging study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(4), pages 811-821, February.
  11. Farmer, Melissa M. & Ferraro, Kenneth F., 2005. "Are racial disparities in health conditional on socioeconomic status?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 191-204, January.
  12. Nan Johnson, 2000. "The racial crossover in comorbidity, disability, and mortality," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 37(3), pages 267-283, August.
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