• This is not your grandfather’s old age

    Dimensions of Health in the Elderly Population” is the latest NBER paper by David Cutler and Mary Beth Landrum. In it they illustrate, and then analyze, trends in measures of disability in the over-65 US population, delivering some nice charts, including these:

    They conclude,

    The reason for the improvement in health is complex. On the one hand, the health improvement is not a result of sample or demographic changes. Younger people are healthier than younger people used to be, but the same is true of older people. Rather, health is improving because individual health deteriorates less rapidly now than in the past. We do not know exactly why this occurs, but we show that the average trend masks significant heterogeneity. Even as health deteriorates overall as people age, health is improving for a significant minority of people.

    You might not recognize it, amid all the doom in gloom about the US health system, but this is good news. Permit a moment of joy. … Nice, huh? OK, snap out of it. Back to work!


    • What’s missing here is the vast increase in the number of elderly, and the fact that people are elderly for far longer. The drop in frequency of disability may be more than outstripped by the increase in longevity, i.e.. even while a smaller fraction of the elderly are disabled at any time, a larger fraction of people will live to experience disbability.

    • I don’t have this data; I’m just saying we need to look out for Simpson’s Paradox here. It could be better, it could be worse in that regard.