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Cross-Cohort Differences in Health on the Verge of Retirement


  • Beth J. Soldo
  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Rania Tfaily
  • John F. McCabe


Baby Boomers have left a unique imprint on US culture and society in the last 60 years, and it might be anticipated that they will also put their own stamp on retirement, the last phase of the life cycle. Yet because Boomers have not all fully retired, we cannot yet judge how they will fare as retirees. Instead, we focus on how this group compares with prior groups on the verge of retirement, that is, at ages 51-56. Accordingly, this chapter evaluates the stock of health which Early Boomers bring to retirement and compare these to the circumstances of two prior cohorts at the same point in their life cycles. Using three sets of responses from the Health and Retirement Study, we find some interesting patterns. Overall, the raw evidence indicates that Boomers on the verge of retirement are in poorer health their counterparts 12 years ago. Using a summary health index designed for this study, we find that those born 1948 to 1953 share health risks with the War Baby cohort. This suggests that most of the health decline instead began before the late 1940's. A more complex set of health conclusions emerges from the specific self-reported health measures. Boomers indicate they have relatively more difficulty with a range of everyday physical tasks, but they also report having more pain, more chronic conditions, more drinking and psychiatric problems, than their HRS earlier counterparts. This trend portends poorly for the future health of Boomers as they age and incur increasing costs associated with health care and medications. Using our health index, only those at the 75th percentile or higher are likely to be characterized as having good or better health.

Suggested Citation

  • Beth J. Soldo & Olivia S. Mitchell & Rania Tfaily & John F. McCabe, 2006. "Cross-Cohort Differences in Health on the Verge of Retirement," NBER Working Papers 12762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12762
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Avi Dor & Joseph Sudano & David W. Baker, 2003. "The Effects of Private Insurance on Measures of Health: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 9774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Michael D. Hurd & Kathleen McGarry, 1995. "Evaluation of the Subjective Probabilities of Survival in the Health and Retirement Study," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30, pages s268-s292.
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    Cited by:

    1. John A. Turner, 2007. "Work at Older Ages: Is Raising the Early Retirement Age an Option for Social Security Reform?," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2007-13, Center for Retirement Research, revised Jun 2007.
    2. Erik Meijer & Arie Kapteyn & Tatiana Andreyeva, 2008. "Health Indexes and Retirement Modeling in International Comparisons," Working Papers 614, RAND Corporation.
    3. Henderson, Daniel J. & Polachek, Solomon W. & Wang, Le, 2011. "Heterogeneity in schooling rates of return," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 1202-1214.
    4. Alicia H. Munnell & Mauricio Soto & Alex Golub-Sass, 2008. "Are Older Men Healthy Enough to Work?," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-17, Center for Retirement Research, revised Oct 2008.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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