Are there educational differentials in the rectangularization of the human survival curve?

Dustin C. Brown, University of Texas at Austin
Mark D. Hayward, University of Texas at Austin
Jennifer Karas Montez, University of Texas at Austin
Robert A. Hummer, University of Texas at Austin
Mira M. Hidajat, Pennsylvania State University

Fries argued that throughout the 20th century the average length of time spent in poor health prior to death became increasingly compressed into a smaller and later portion of life. According to Fries, this trend in concert with a biologically determined upper-limit to the human lifespan caused the human survival curve to become increasingly rectangular. Prior research examines differences in rectangularization either over time or between nations with an implicit assumption that cross-national and temporal differences in rectangularization are due to variations in levels of socioeconomic development. We extend this logic and examine sex-education differentials in rectangularization with data from two large, nationally representative U.S. datasets. We hypothesize that relative differentials in rectangularization exist between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged populations within a single period and national context. The results reveal that socioeconomic advantage is positively associated with rectangularization. These new findings underscore the potency of socioeconomic conditions for shaping mortality.

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Presented in Session 110: Health, mortality and longevity