Cumulative advantage, cumulative disadvantage, and inequality among elderly people

Gerontologist. 1990 Aug;30(4):437-43. doi: 10.1093/geront/30.4.437.


It is often asserted that economic inequality narrows after age 65 when benefit programs replace labor markets as principal income sources. However, analysis of recent Census data suggests inequality is greatest among elderly people. The worst off one-fifth of the elderly (disproportionately unmarried women, minorities, and the physically impaired) receives 5.5% of the elderly's total resources, whereas the best off one-fifth receives 46%. Equalizing effects of Social Security are more than outweighed by private pensions, asset income, and other sources. Findings suggest a process of cumulative economic advantage and disadvantage throughout the life course.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged*
  • Economics / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Assistance
  • United States