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J Health Soc Behav. 2018 Mar;59(1):74-93. doi: 10.1177/0022146517750137. Epub 2018 Jan 10.

What Do We Rate When We Rate Our Health? Decomposing Age-related Contributions to Self-rated Health.

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1 Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.
2 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA.


Self-ratings of health (SRH) indicate current health-related quality of life and independently predict mortality. Studies show the SRH of older adults appears less influenced by physical health than the SRH of younger adults. But if physical health accounts less for the SRH of older adults, what factors take its place? To understand the relative contributions of social, emotional, and physical states to SRH by age, we analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey 2006 to 2011 ( N = 153,341). In age-stratified regressions, physical health and functional limitations declined as correlates of SRH for older age strata, while social factors, such as gender and race, increased in importance. Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition showed that if younger respondents had similar health conditions, they would rate their health more poorly than current cohorts of older adults do. The declining influence of physical health on SRH in old age appears to be due in part to displacement by social factors.


aging; decomposition methods; response shift; self-rated health


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