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New research shows levels of health disparity have increased substantially for people born in the United States after 1980.
The study also found that health disparity tends to increase as people move into middle age, before declining as people reach old age, according to a press release.
These two results suggest that the gap between the healthiest and least healthy people in the United States as a whole will grow larger for the next one or even two decades as the younger generations grow older and replace previous generations.
“As young people today reach middle age and preceding cohorts with a smaller health gap die off, we expect health disparities in the whole population to grow even larger,” said Hui Zheng, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.
The study also found gender differences in health across the lifespan. There is a relatively large gap in early adulthood, with men being healthier than women. This gap narrows until about age 61, as men are more likely to experience more severe forms of chronic conditions, such as heart disease.
The gap widens again after age 61, as only the healthier men survive and there is a relatively larger share of women with poorer health alive at older ages.
The health gap has not always been growing, according to the study, according to the press release. Health disparities continuously declined from those born early in the 20th century to the baby boomer cohort, before increasing for post-baby boomer cohorts, especially those born after 1980.
The results appear in the December issue of the American Sociological Review.