Demographic Disparities in
Trends in Old-Age Disability
Robert F. Schoeni, Vicki A. Freedman, and Linda G. Martin
Socioeconomic and demographic disparities in health status are substantial. Disparities are greatest in midlife, but gaps in old age remain large (House et al. 1990; House et al. 1994). Among people ages sixty-five and older, minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations are much more likely than other groups to experience disability and the physical, cognitive, and sensory limitations that underlie it (Freedman and Martin 1999; Freedman, Aykan, and Martin 2001; Manton and Gu 2001). Disability prevalence increases rapidly with age, and women, including widows, have much higher prevalence rates. The burden of disability clearly falls disproportionately on less-advantaged groups.
In the 1980s, research revealed that population health and disability were worsening (Colvez and Blanchet 1981; Verbrugge 1984). Subsequent research questioned that conclusion (Waidmann, Bound, and Schoenbaum 1995), and studies of the elderly, in particular, began to find significant reductions in disability (Manton, Corder, and Stallard 1993). Based on a stream of research on the topic starting in the late 1990s, the current
Robert F. Schoeni is a research professor at the Survey Research Center and Population
Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, and professor of economics and public policy
at the University of Michigan. Vicki A. Freedman is a professor in the Department of Health
Systems and Policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, School of
Public Health. Linda G. Martin is a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation.
Corresponding author: Robert F. Schoeni, Institute for Social Research, University
of Michigan, 426 Thompson Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, (734) 763-5131, (734) 936-3809
(fax), firstname.lastname@example.org. Freedman, Martin, and Schoeni acknowledge support from the
U.S. National Institute on Aging, grant numbers R01-AG021516, P30 AG12810, and R01
AG19805, the Mary Woodard Lasker Charitable Trust and Michael E. DeBakey Foundation,
and from the National Bureau of Economic Research.