Socioeconomic disparities in health among older adults and the implications for the retirement age debate: A brief report

Anna Zajacova, Jennifer Karas Montez, Pamela Herd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Objective. Policy debates about raising the full retirement age often neglect socioeconomic health disparities among U.S. workers. In response to this gap, we analyzed educational differentials in health among middle-age and older adults and translated the findings into age equivalents.

Method. We used the nationally representative 1997-2010 National Health Interview Surveys data on white and black adults aged 40-74 (N = 341,060). Using nonparametric regression (locally weighted scatterplot smoother) stratified by sex, race, and three educational levels, we determined age-specific prevalence of fair or poor self-rated health and any activity limitation, and compared the ages at which different demographic groups experienced a specific level of these two outcomes.

Results. Results varied slightly across health outcomes and demographic groups but generally showed that college-educated white men reported a level of limitations at age 70 that is equivalent to the levels reported by high school graduates at age 40-55. High school dropouts reported worse health at age 40 than the college educated at age 70, a gap of more than 30 years. Conclusions. Our findings revealed enormous health inequalities in self-reported health, using a powerful and intuitive age-equivalence formulation. They highlighted the importance of considering health disparities in discussions about raising the retirement age, both in terms of fairness and feasibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-978
Number of pages6
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Health disparities
  • Older adults
  • Retirement policy
  • U.S. workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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