Are the Young Becoming More Disabled?

Darius Lakdawalla, Dana Goldman, Jay Bhattacharya

NBER Working Paper No. 8247
Issued in April 2001
NBER Program(s):Health Economics

A fair amount of research suggests that health has been improving among the elderly over the past 10 to 15 years. Comparatively little research effort, however, has been focused on analyzing disability among the young. In this paper, we argue that health among the young has been deteriorating, at the same time that the elderly have been becoming healthier. Moreover, this growth in disability may end up translating into higher disability rates for tomorrow's elderly. Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, we find that, from 1984 to 1996, the rate of disability among those in their 40s rose by one full percentage point, or almost forty percent. Over the same period, the rate of disability declined for the elderly. The recent growth in disability has coincided with substantial growth in asthma and diabetes among the young. Indeed, the growth in asthma alone seems more than enough to explain the change in disability. Therefore, we argue that the growth in disability stems from real changes in underlying health status.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8247

Published: Lakdawalla, Darius, Jay Bhattacharya, and Dana Goldman. “Are the Young Becoming More Disabled?” Health Affairs 23, 1 (January/February 2004): 168-176.

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