Volume 31 - Article 17 | Pages 497–510  

Age patterns of racial/ethnic/nativity differences in disability and physical functioning in the United States

By Jennifer Melvin, Robert A. Hummer, Irma T. Elo, Neil Mehta

Abstract

Background: Rapid population aging and increasing racial/ethnic and immigrant/native diversity make a broad documentation of U.S. health patterns during both mid- and late life particularly important.

Objective: We aim to better understand age- and gender-specific racial/ethnic and nativity differences in physical functioning and disability among adults aged 50 and above.

Methods: We aggregate 14 years of data from the National Health Interview Survey and calculate age- and gender-specific proportions of physical functioning and two types of disability for each population subgroup.

Results: Middle-aged foreign-born individuals in nearly every subgroup exhibit lower proportions of functional limitations and disability than U.S.-born whites. This pattern of immigrant advantage is generally reversed in later life. Moreover, most U.S.-born minority groups have significantly higher levels of functional limitations and disability than U.S.-born whites in both mid- and late life.

Conclusions: Higher levels of functional limitations and disability among U.S.-born minority groups and immigrant populations in older adulthood pose serious challenges for health providers and policymakers in a rapidly diversifying and aging population.

Author's Affiliation

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