MPIDR Working Paper

The boomer penalty: excess mortality among baby boomers in Canada and the United States

Acosta, E., Gagnon, A., Ouellette, N., Bourbeau, R. R., Nepomuceno, M. R., van Raalte, A. A.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2020-003, 62 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (January 2020)
Open Access


Studies suggest that, relative to adjacent cohorts, baby boomers in Canada and the United States have experienced a slowdown, or even a deterioration, in mortality improvements. These findings are counterintuitive and surprising since the unprecedented improvements in early-life conditions experienced by baby boomers should have led to declines in morbidity and mortality in later life, as was the case for earlier generations.

The present study explores the mechanisms that could have produced this “excess” mortality among the baby boom cohorts in Canada and in three racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Using micro-level mortality data from vital statistics systems, we analyzed the contributions of the causes of death that are likely driving this cohort’s excess mortality, and their dynamics over time. The analyses were done using demographic decomposition, visual, and statistical methods.

We found evidence of a higher susceptibility of the trailing edge boomers (those born around 1960) to behavioral causes of death: namely, mortality from drugs, alcohol, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, COPD, and suicide. Most of these causes contributed to the all-cause mortality disadvantage of baby boomers through sustained cohort effects that followed the cohorts over time. This finding calls into question the assumption that secular improvements in early life conditions lead to a monotonic decline in cohort mortality rates. Instead, there may be important disruptions in the continuous progress in health and mortality, and it is possible that the baby boom generation represents one such disruption. This insight calls for a rethinking of the mechanisms that drive current age-period-cohort mortality patterns. The mechanisms that can generate the observed cohort disadvantage of baby boomers – such as the higher levels of distress and frustration as well as the riskier attitudes toward drug use and sexual practices that are constituent of the boomer generation identity – are addressed and discussed.

Keywords: America, avoidable mortality, cohort analysis, excess mortality, exogenous mortality, mortality trends
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.