Cross-Cohort Differences in Health on the Verge of Retirement
Baby Boomers have left a unique imprint on US culture and society in the last 60 years, and it might be anticipated that they will also put their own stamp on retirement, the last phase of the life cycle. Yet because Boomers have not all fully retired, we cannot yet judge how they will fare as retirees. Instead, we focus on how this group compares with prior groups on the verge of retirement, that is, at ages 51-56. Accordingly, this chapter evaluates the stock of health which Early Boomers bring to retirement and compare these to the circumstances of two prior cohorts at the same point in their life cycles. Using three sets of responses from the Health and Retirement Study, we find some interesting patterns. Overall, the raw evidence indicates that Boomers on the verge of retirement are in poorer health their counterparts 12 years ago. Using a summary health index designed for this study, we find that those born 1948 to 1953 share health risks with the War Baby cohort. This suggests that most of the health decline instead began before the late 1940's. A more complex set of health conclusions emerges from the specific self-reported health measures. Boomers indicate they have relatively more difficulty with a range of everyday physical tasks, but they also report having more pain, more chronic conditions, more drinking and psychiatric problems, than their HRS earlier counterparts. This trend portends poorly for the future health of Boomers as they age and incur increasing costs associated with health care and medications. Using our health index, only those at the 75th percentile or higher are likely to be characterized as having good or better health.
The authors are grateful for research support from the Pension Research Council and the Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research at The Wharton School, the Population Aging Research Center (PARC) at the University of Pennsylvania, and NIH/NIA Grant no. 1R13AG028231-01. Opinions and any errors are solely those of the authors. All findings, interpretations, and conclusions of this paper represent the views of the authors and not those of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Madrian, Brigitte, Olivia S. Mitchell, & Beth Soldo (eds.) Redefining Retirement: How Will Boomer Fair? Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.