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.
Keywords: Health disparities; Older adults; Retirement policy.; U.S. workers.
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