Evidence for Significant Compression of Morbidity In the Elderly U.S. Population

David M. Cutler, Kaushik Ghosh, Mary Beth Landrum

NBER Working Paper No. 19268
Issued in August 2013
NBER Program(s):   AG   HC   HE

The question of whether morbidity is being compressed into the period just before death has been at the center of health debates in the United States for some time. Compression of morbidity would lead to longer life but less rapid medical spending increases than if life extension were accompanied by expanding morbidity. Using nearly 20 years of data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, we examine how health is changing by time period until death. We show that functional measures of health are improving, and more so the farther away from death the person is surveyed. Disease rates are relatively constant at all times until death. On net, there is strong evidence for compression of morbidity based on measured disability, but less clear evidence based on disease-free survival.

download in pdf format
   (320 K)

email paper

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the November 2013 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

This paper is available as PDF (320 K) or via email.

Acknowledgments and Disclosures

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Forthcoming as Evidence for Significant Compression of Morbidity in the Elderly U.S. Population, David Cutler, Kaushik Ghosh, Mary Beth Landrum, in Discoveries in the Economics of Aging (2014), University of Chicago Press

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Autor, Dorn, Hanson, and Song w19226 Trade Adjustment: Worker Level Evidence
Cadena and Kovak w19272 Immigrants Equilibrate Local Labor Markets: Evidence from the Great Recession
Dahl, Kostol, and Mogstad w19237 Family Welfare Cultures
Cutler, Skinner, Stern, and Wennberg w19320 Physician Beliefs and Patient Preferences: A New Look at Regional Variation in Health Care Spending
Chang, Hong, and Liskovich w19290 Regression Discontinuity and the Price Effects of Stock Market Indexing

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us