, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 103-127
Date: 17 Oct 2012

Disability Trends by Marital Status Among Older Americans, 1997–2010: An Examination by Gender and Race

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Abstract

This study examined disability trends by marital status among older adults aged 60 and above from 1997 to 2010 in the U.S. We addressed two questions: (1) Has the relationship between marital status and disability changed over the study period? (2) Can the trends be explained by changes in socioeconomic status? We paid special attention to potential gender and racial variations in these patterns. Data were drawn from the National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS) 1997–2010 (N = 170,446). Consistent with previous literature, our results from logistic regression models suggested that the married had lower odds of reporting either ADL or IADL disability than the unmarried groups over the entire study period across all gender and racial subgroups examined. More importantly, we found that the ADL disability gaps of widowed white men, widowed white women, and divorced white women in comparison to their married white counterparts decreased from 1997 to 2010; the IADL disability gaps of widowed white men and widowed black women in comparison to their married counterparts also decreased, while the IADL disability gap between never married white men and married white men increased over time. Socioeconomic status could explain little of these trends. These results, coupled with the growth of unmarried elderly population, suggest that the national long-term care system needs to get prepared for the potentially significant increase in demand for their services among the vulnerable unmarried elderly (especially blacks) and provide affordable and adequate services to those in need.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, 2009. We are grateful for suggestions from the editor and the anonymous reviewers of this manuscript.