Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Health Problems Mount Rapidly for the Less Educated

For 39 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked the labor force experience of a cohort of Baby Boomers as they aged from their teens and twenties into their fifties and sixties. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth was first fielded in 1979, when a nationally representative sample of young adults aged 14 to 22 answered a battery of questions. This cohort has been surveyed repeatedly for decades, the latest being in 2018–19, when these late Boomers (born from 1957 to 1964) were aged 53 to 62. 

One of the survey questions has asked respondents whether their health limits the kind or amount of work they can do. Not surprisingly, a growing share of respondents reported health limitations as they aged. Only 3.5 percent said their health was a limiting factor at age 24. The figure grew slightly to 4.9 percent at age 34, then more than doubled to 10.3 percent at age 44. By age 54, a substantial 19.9 percent of the cohort reported limitations in their work due to health issues. 

No characteristic plays a bigger role in determining the health status of aging Boomers than educational attainment...

Percent at specified age who said their health limits their work, by educational attainment
  at 54at 44  at 34  at 24
Total cohort  19.9%  10.3%   4.9%   3.5%
Bachelor's degree+    8.5    4.7   3.6   3.1
Some college/associate's degree  19.7  10.3   5.9   3.2
High school graduate only  23.9  12.2   5.1   3.8
No high school diploma  46.9  23.0   5.8   5.1

By age 54, nearly half (46.9 percent) of those without a high school diploma were limited in their work because of health issues. Among those with a bachelor's degree or more education, only 8.5 percent reported such limitations. The college graduates at age 54 were healthier than every other educational attainment group had been at age 44. 

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