Objective: We sought to determine whether socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in prevalence of disability over age 70 have widened or narrowed during the past 2 decades.
Methods: We used data from the 1982-2002 National Health Interview Surveys, which are nationally representative cross-sectional surveys of the noninstitutionalized population of the United States. Participants included 172227 people aged 70 years and older. The primary outcome measure was the average annual percentage change in the prevalence of 2 self-reported disability measures: the need for help with activities of daily living ("ADL disability") and need for help with either ADL or instrumental activities of daily living ("any disability").
Results: All groups experienced declines in the age- and gender-adjusted prevalence of any disability during the 1982 to 2002 period. However, the average annual percent declines were smaller for the least advantaged socioeconomic groups. Differences in trends across racial/ethnic groups were not statistically significant. ADL disability prevalence decreased for the more advantaged groups but increased among the lowest income and education groups. Non-Hispanic Whites and minorities experienced similar average annual percent declines in ADL disability.
Conclusions: Racial/ethnic disparities in old-age disability have persisted over the last 20 years, whereas socioeconomic disparities have increased.