Methodological Aspects of Subjective Life Expectancy: Effects of Culture-Specific Reporting Heterogeneity Among Older Adults in the United States

Objectives. Subjective life expectancy (SLE) has been suggested as a predictor of mortality and mortality-related behaviors. Although critical for culturally diverse societies, these findings do not consider cross-cultural methodological comparability. Culture-specific reporting heterogeneity is a well-known phenomenon introducing biases, and research on this issue with SLE is not established.Method. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we examined reporting heterogeneity in SLE focusing on item nonresponse, focal points, and reports over time for five ethnic-cultural groups: non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, non-Hispanic other races, English-interviewed Hispanics, and Spanish-interviewed Hispanics.Results. On item nonresponse, Spanish-interviewed Hispanics said, “I don't know,” to SLE significantly more than any other groups. Nearly half of the respondents chose 0, 50, or 100, making them focal points. However, the focal points differed: 50 for Whites, 100 for Blacks, and 0 for Spanish-interviewed Hispanics. The relationship of SLE measured at two time points was higher for Whites than minorities. Moreover, those who said “I don't know” to SLE showed higher subsequent mortality than those who gave an answer. SLE was not a significant mortality predictor for Hispanics.Discussion. Overall, SLE is not free from culture-specific reporting heterogeneity. This warrants further research about its culture-relevant measurement mechanisms.