NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Americans Nearing Retirement Are Healthier, Less Disabled

January 12, 2000

Overall, Americans approaching retirement are healthier, have fewer chronic diseases and are less likely to be disabled than previous generations, scientists report. Moreover, chronic diseases are less likely to be disabling, disabilities are less likely to be severe, and lifestyles are healthier.

Those are the major findings of a study of two generations of Framingham, Mass., residents who participated in disability studies. Researchers took disability data collected in the 1970s on residents who were ages 55 to 70 and compared their health then to those in the next generation who were in the same age range in 1994.

  • Fewer offspring were limited in one or more ways by disabilities than those in the original cohort -- for men, 36 percent vs. 52 percent, and for women, 54 percent vs. 72 percent.
  • Fewer offspring rated their health as fair or poor than in the original cohort -- for men, 10 percent vs. 15 percent, and for women, 9 percent vs. 15 percent.
  • Fewer offspring had a chronic disease (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and arthritis) than the earlier generation; moreover, fewer offspring with chronic diseases were limited in one or more ways by a disability -- 51 percent vs. 66 percent.

Also, offspring were more physically active, and the proportion of current cigarette smokers was about half the preceding generation -- for men, 15 percent vs. 31 percent, and for women, 17 percent vs. 34 percent.

More than 3,000 subjects were involved in the disabilities studies. They were drawn from participants in the long-term Framingham Heart Study, initially conducted in 1948. Almost all the participants were white; however, studies using other data sources have found similar trends toward improving health in other ethnic and racial groups.

Source: Saralynn H. Allaire, et al., "Evidence for Decline in Disability and Improved Health Among Persons Aged 55 to 70 Years: the Framingham Heart Study," American Journal of Public Health, November 1999.


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