Forecasting Mortality Inequalities in the U.S. Based on Trends in Midlife Health

Recent literature has documented a widening gap in mortality between older individuals of high versus low socioeconomic status (SES) in the U.S. This paper investigates whether this trend will continue. We analyze the health status of successive cohorts of 54-60-year-old U.S. individuals born between 1934 and 1959 and use a rich set of health indicators to forecast life expectancies. The detailed health measures come from the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study. We find that many health indicators have worsened recently. For example, rates of obesity, diabetes, and self-reported levels of pain sharply increased between 1992 and 2016. Directly relevant for mortality, recent cohorts report lower subjective survival probabilities. Using Social Security wealth as an SES indicator, we find strong evidence for increasing health inequalities. We predict overall life expectancy to increase further; but the increase will be concentrated among higher SES individuals and mortality inequality will continue to increase.

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