The Illusion of Failure: Trends in Self-reported Health of the U.S. Elderly

Data from the National Health Interview Survey showed a trend toward worsening self-reported health among older American men and women during the 1970s. This evidence – combined with the significant declines in age-specific mortality observed since the 1960s-led some researchers to suggest that the health of the older population is declining. An examination of recent trends in self-reported health indicates that the health declines observed during the 1970s generally reversed during the 1980s. This reversal not only belies the argument that lower adult mortality implies worse health, but also challenges the belief that trends in self-reported health during the 1970s reflected actual health declines. A more plausible explanation is that changes in the social and economic forces, combined with earlier diagnosis of preexisting conditions, influenced the options available for responding to health problems.