Journal Article

Racial, ethnic, nativity, and educational disparities in cognitive impairment and activity limitations in the United States, 1998–2016

Sharma, S., Hale, J. M., Myrskylä, M., Kulu, H.
Demography, 60:5, 1441–1468 (2023)
Open Access


Despite extensive research on cognitive impairment and limitations in basic activities of daily living, no study has investigated the burden of their co-occurrence (co-impairment). Using the Health and Retirement Study data and incidence-based multistate models, we study the population burden of co-impairment using three key indicators: mean age at onset, lifetime risk, and health expectancy. We examine patterns by gender, race, ethnicity, nativity, education, and their interactions for U.S. residents aged 50–100. Furthermore, we analyze what fractions of racial, ethnic, and nativity disparities in co-impairment are attributable to inequalities in educational attainment. Results reveal that an estimated 56% of women and 41% of men aged 50 will experience co-impairment in their remaining life expectancy. Men experience an earlier onset of co-impairment than women (74 vs. 77 years), and women live longer in co-impairment than men (3.4 vs. 1.9 years). Individuals who are Black, Latinx, and lower educated, especially those experiencing intersecting disadvantages, have substantially higher lifetime risk of co-impairment, earlier co-impairment onset, and longer life in co-impairment than their counterparts. Up to 75% of racial, ethnic, and nativity disparity is attributable to inequality in educational attainment. This study provides novel insights into the burden of co-impairment and offers evidence of dramatic disparities in the older U.S. population.

Keywords: USA
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.