NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Health Disparities Among Older Adults

December 24, 2003

Health disparities between various ethnic and racial groups persist through the entire life cycle, say researchers Keith Whitfield and Mark Hayward.

  • Black mortality rates are especially elevated for heart disease and cerebrovascular disease and exceed those for Whites at any age beyond 44 years.
  • The rates of heart disease and cerebrovascular disease experienced by Blacks at ages 45-54 are higher than those reported for other groups at ages 55-64.
  • The rate of chronic disability among black and Native American men at ages 30-34 is not reached until decades later for Whites and Asians.
  • Blacks live many fewer years and live many more years with a chronic disability than the longest-lived group, Asians.
  • Native Americans live longer, but live an extended period of their lives with disability.

Documenting health disparities accurately in older populations is very difficult because the data show different survival rates into old age. Black men are much less likely than White men to survive to age 50. As a result, Black men are underrepresented in the data (50 is the earliest age for inclusion in one of the major national data sets on population health). To alleviate the problem, researchers propose changes in data collection and reporting to create an accurate picture of health disparities.

Source: Keith E. Whitfield and Mark Hayward, "The Landscape of Health Disparities Among Older Adults," Public Policy & Aging Report, Summer 2003.

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