Progressive and accelerated disability onset by race/ethnicity and education among late midlife and older adults

Latham K.  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248, USA.  J Aging Health. 2012 Dec;24(8):1320-45. doi: 10.1177/0898264312459345. Epub 2012 Sep 14.

OBJECTIVE: This study explores the pace of severe disability onset with an emphasis on the role of race/ethnicity and education. More specifically, this research examines whether race/ethnicity and educational attainment are independent predictors of progressive and accelerated disability onset.

METHOD: Using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) Waves 2 to 10 (1994-2010), a series of discrete-time Cox proportional hazards models with multiple competing events were created to ascertain whether respondents developed progressive or accelerated disability in subsequent waves.

RESULTS: Black and Hispanic respondents were at an increased risk of developing progressive disability. Respondents without a high school degree were more likely to experience progressive or accelerated disability.

DISCUSSION: Low educational attainment was a particularly strong predictor of accelerated disability onset and may represent an acute lack of resources over the life course. Race and ethnicity were important predictors of progressive disability onset, which may reflect racial/ethnic variations in the disabling process.