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Income, Poverty, and Material Hardship Among Older Americans

Publication Abstract

Levy, Helen. 2015. "Income, Poverty, and Material Hardship Among Older Americans." RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 1(1): 55-77.

Using data from the 2008 and 2010 waves of the Health and Retirement Study to analyze the determinants of material hardship among individuals ages sixty-five and older, I look at five self-reported hardships: food insecurity, skipped meals, medication cutbacks, difficulty paying bills, and dissatisfaction with one's financial situation. One-fifth of the elderly report one or more of these hardships. Although hardship is more likely for those with low incomes, most older Americans experiencing hardship are not poor. I analyze whether alternative measures of resources do a better job of predicting hardship than does income relative to the federal poverty threshold. I find that spending relative to the poverty threshold does a worse job predicting hardship than does income relative to poverty. Subtracting out-of-pocket medical spending from income yields a measure that is an even better predictor of hardship. In multivariate models, I find that self-reported health, activity limitations, and disability are significant predictors of hardship. Having reliable children (as assessed by the respondent) or an able-bodied spouse reduces the likelihood of hardship. Poor health increases hardship through three channels: by lowering income, by increasing out-of-pocket medical spending, and through its direct effect on hardship. The first two of these-lower income and higher medical spending-are much less quantitatively important than the third; in a nutshell, poor health makes it harder to get by with less.


ISBN: 2377-8261

PMCID: PMC5110250. (Pub Med Central)

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