Significant gains in life expectancy have been achieved, but living longer does not necessarily mean the years gained are productive and healthy. Different theories predict different patterns of time trends in old-age disability prevalence.
Using the Gateway to Global Aging Data, which provides internationally harmonized longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study and its sister surveys, we compare time trends (from 2004 to 2014) in disability prevalence across countries.
Disability prevalence varies greatly across countries, and divergent time trends are observed across countries. For countries such as Belgium, Czechia, and Mexico, we observe an increase of disability prevalence, whereas in countries such as Denmark, England, Greece, Korea, Poland, and Sweden, we observe a substantial decrease in disability prevalence. Looking further into the severity of disability, we often observe differential trends in prevalence, but there is no evidence supporting the dynamic equilibrium hypothesis that predicts increased prevalence of modest disability but a decrease in severe disability prevalence.
Significant gains in life expectancy have translated into different gains in healthy years of life across different countries. Diverse time trends in disability prevalence across countries reaffirm that the expansion of late-life disability is not inevitable.