|Could Baby Boomers Be Approaching Retirement
in Worse Shape Than Their Predecessors?
Americans in their early to mid-50s today report poorer health,
more pain and more trouble doing everyday physical tasks than their
older peers reported at the same age in years past, a recent analysis
has shown. The research, published in print and online this week
by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), was
supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component
of the National Institutes of Health.
The study was conducted by Beth J. Soldo, Ph.D., Olivia Mitchell,
Ph.D., and John McCabe, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania,
and Rania Tfaily, Ph.D., of Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario.
The newly published report appears as part of NBER’s Working Paper
series and follows the analysis’ online appearance in 2006. It
will also be published in a refereed volume from Oxford University
Press in 2007.
Using a summary health index developed for their analysis, the
researchers compared the overall, self-reported health of people
in three birth-year groups — those born in 1936-41 (now ages
66 to 71), 1942-47 (now ages 60 to 65) and 1948-53 (now ages 54
to 59). The data came from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS),
a nationwide, NIA-sponsored survey of more than 20,000 Americans
over age 50 that began in 1992. It draws from survey respondents’ answers
to questions about their health and well-being when they were all
between the ages of 51 and 56. The researchers’ health index blended
HRS participants’ ratings of their health, difficulty with physical
mobility and agility, and perception of physical pain.
The study showed:
- The two younger groups were less likely than the oldest group
to have said their health was “excellent or very good” at 51
to 56 years of age.
- The youngest group reported having more pain, chronic health
conditions, and drinking and psychiatric problems than people
who were the same age 12 years earlier.
- Compared with the oldest group, the youngest group was more
likely to have reported difficulty in walking, climbing steps,
getting up from a chair, kneeling or crouching, and doing other
normal daily physical tasks.
This new analysis provides some initial data raising the question
of whether today’s pre-retirees could reach retirement age in worse
shape than their predecessors, with individuals potentially in
poorer health than current retirees and possibly increasing health
care costs for society. In the past two decades, there has been
a dramatic decline in disability among people 65 and older. One
recent report of this trend, for example, found that the prevalence
of chronic disability among people 65 and older fell from 26.5
percent in 1982 to 19 percent in 2004/2005 (see “Disability Among
Older Americans Continues Significant Decline” at http://www.nia.nih.gov/NewsAndEvents/PressReleases/PR20061201DisabilityDecline.htm).
Researchers and policymakers are vitally interested in whether
this trend will continue, accelerate or decelerate with the retirement
of the baby boom, a critically important question in planning for
health, housing and other needs of this wave of retirees, who begin
to turn 65 in 2011.
To reach Beth Soldo, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, contact Jackie
Posey at 215-898-6460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Olivia Mitchell, Ph.D., The Wharton School of the University
of Pennsylvania, contact Hilary Farrell at 215-898-0424 or email@example.com.
The NBER report follows earlier analyses, including an NIA-supported
study suggesting that the obesity epidemic, which is driving higher
rates of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, could threaten
the disability decline as well. It will be important to develop
and understand new data about pre-retirees to see which direction
the boomer cohort will take, says Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director
of the NIA’s Behavioral and Social Research Program.
The NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research
on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older
people. For more information on research and aging, go to www.nia.nih.gov.
Publications on research and on a variety of topics of interest
on health and aging can be viewed and ordered by visiting the NIA
website or can be ordered by calling toll-free 1-800-222-2225.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.