The Persistence and Heterogeneity of Health among Older Americans

Florian Heiss, Steven F. Venti, David A. Wise

NBER Working Paper No. 20306
Issued in July 2014
NBER Program(s):Aging

We consider how age-health profiles differ by demographic characteristics such as education, race, and ethnicity. A key feature of the analysis is the joint estimation of health and mortality to correct for the effect of mortality selection on observed age-health profiles. The model also allows for heterogeneity in individual health at a point in time and the persistence of the unobserved component of health over time. The observed component of health is based on a multidimensional index based on 27 indicators of health. Most of the key results are shown by simulations that illustrate the range of issues that can be addressed using the model. Differences in health by education and racial-ethnic group at age 50 persist throughout the remainder of life. Based on observed profiles, the health of whites is about 8 percentile points greater than the health of blacks at age 50 but by age 90 the gap is only 5 percentile points. However, when corrected for mortality selection, the health of blacks is actually declining more rapidly with age than the health of whites; the true gap widens with age. We also find that much of the difference in age-health profiles by racial-ethnic group is accounted for by differences in the levels of education between race-ethnic groups--from two-thirds to 85 percent for men and about half for women. We also simulate differences in survival probabilities by level of education and health and use these probabilities to calculate the expected present discounted value (EPDV) of an immediate annuity with first payout at age 66 for persons by gender, level of education, and health decile. The range of EPDVs is over two-fold for both men and women suggesting enormous potential for adverse selection.

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A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the 2015 number 1 issue of the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health. You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20306

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