Income and Wealth Disparities Continue through Old Age

A substantial number of older Americans born from 1931 through 1941 lived at least into their 70s or early 80s, according to GAO’s analysis of data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representive survey which follows the same individuals over time. GAO divided individuals born from 1931 through 1941 into quintiles based on their mid-career household earnings using records from the Social Security Administration. GAO’s analysis, as well as that of other researchers, shows that differences in income, wealth, and demographic characteristics were associated with disparities in longevity. However, even with these disparities, we found a substantial number of people in the sample were alive in 2014, including those with characteristics associated with reduced average longevity, such as low earnings and low educational attainment. Taken all together, individuals may live a long time, even individuals with factors associated with lower longevity, such as low income or education. Those with fewer resources in retirement who live a long time may have to rely primarily on Social Security or safety net programs.

U.S. Government Accountability Office