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Low income middle-aged Americans have higher 10-year death rates even after controlling for their worse health at baseline

Older Americans are living longer lives free of disability. However, a new study found that these gains are not equally shared. Researchers analyzed 1992-2002 data from the National Health and Retirement Study to track the health of 9,759 persons aged 51 to 61 years from 1992 until 2002. Americans with lower income, less education, and less wealth in their 50s reported poorer overall health and more chronic conditions and functional difficulties. Those with low incomes had significantly higher mortality rates even after adjusting for these baseline health differences.

The overall 10-year mortality rate was 10.9 percent (13.1 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women). Mortality was closely associated with self-reported health status, ranging from 4.7 percent for those reporting excellent health in 1992 to 35.8 percent for those reporting poor health in that year. The vast majority of the excellent health group also lived in the highest income households, while most of those in the poor health group lived in the lowest income households.

After accounting for the effects on death rates of respondents' demographic characteristics, baseline health status; behavioral risk factors such as smoking, physical activity; being overweight; and low household income (but not wealth or education) remained significantly associated with a higher likelihood of dying during the 10 years of followup.

The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10283).

See "Baseline health, socioeconomic status, and 10-year mortality among older middle-aged Americans: Findings from the health and retirement study, 1992-2002," by Joe Feinglass, Ph.D., Suru Lin, M.D., M.P.H., Jason Thompson, B.A., and others, in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 62B(4), pp. S209-S217, 2007.

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