Pathways to Disability: Predicting Health Trajectories
Content The paper considers transitions in the health and disability status of persons as they age. In particular, we explore the relationship between health and disability at younger ages (say 50) and health and disability in future ages. We consider for example, the future health path of persons who are in good health at age 50 compared to the future health path of persons who are in poor health at age 50. To do this, we develop a model that jointly considers health and mortality. The key feature of the model is the assumption of underlying “latent” health that determines both mortality and self-reported responses to categorical health and disability questions. Latent health allows for heterogeneity among individuals and allows for correlation of health status over time, thus allowing for state dependence as well as heterogeneity. The model also allows for classification errors in self-reported response to categorical health and disability questions. All of these are important features of health and disability data, as we show with descriptive data. The model accommodates the strong relationship between self-reported health status and mortality, which is critical to an understanding of the paths of health and disability of the survivors who are observed in panel data files. Our empirical analysis is based on all four cohorts of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) -- the HRS, AHEAD, CODA and WB cohorts). We find that self-reported health and self-reported disability correspond very closely to one another in the HRS. We find that both self-reported health and disability are strong predictors of mortality. Health and disability at younger ages are strongly related to future health and disability paths of persons as they age. There are important differences in health and disability paths by education level, race, and gender.