Baby boomers appear to be heading for retirement in worse
shape than their elders born in the years before World War II.
That's according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic
The study shows that baby boomers aged 51-56 report worse health and more
pain, drinking, psychiatric problems, and difficulty with daily physical tasks
than their predecessors.
"This trend portends poorly for the future health of boomers as they age
and incur increasing costs associated with health care and medications,"
the researchers write.
They include Beth Soldo, PhD, Distinguished Senior Scholar in the University
of Pennsylvania's sociology department.
Then and Now
The study looked at three groups: people born between 1936 and 1941, when
America entered WWII; "war babies" born between 1942 and 1947; and baby
boomers born between 1948 and 1953, after American soldiers had returned
When participants were 51-56 years old, they completed a questionnaire about
their medical and psychiatric history, general health, pain, smoking, drinking,
and degree of difficulty with common physical tasks such as climbing stairs or
walking several blocks.
The questionnaire was completed in 1992 by more than 5,300 people from the
oldest group, in 1998 by more than 5,000 war babies, and in 2004 by about 5,000
The findings: In their early to mid 50s, the boomers reported more chronic
conditions, pain, mental illness, drinking problems, and difficulty with common
physical tasks than the oldest group had at the same age.
"Overall, the raw evidence indicates that boomers on the verge of
retirement are in poorer health than their counterparts 12 years
[earlier]," write the researchers.
The reasons for that change aren't clear.
Perhaps baby boomers are more informed about their health, or more willing
to note health problems, than the oldest group. Or perhaps their health has
taken a turn for the worse.
The researchers didn't confirm participants' self-reported medical history.
They also didn't give participants checkups to gauge the true state of their
The boomers and war babies had similar data, suggesting they were roughly in
the same shape in their mid-50s.
Healthy in Midlife
The news isn't all bad for baby boomers. Many reported few chronic
conditions, little pain, and no physical restrictions or mental problems.
"But a small fraction is in very poor health, with multiple chronic
conditions," write the researchers.
Those reporting good health tended to report high levels of education, good
childhood health, and highly educated parents. Smoking and heavy drinking were
often noted by unhealthy participants.
The study appears on the web site of the National Bureau of Economic
Research and was partly funded by the National Institute on Aging, which is
part of the National Institutes of Health.
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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