Ageing Latin America and the Caribbean: Implications of Past Mortality
Ageing in Latin America and the Caribbean will proceed along different paths from those followed by the more developed countries. Several features distinguish the ageing process in the region. One of the most important is that it is difficult to predict the future health profile of the older population, due to factors associated with prevailing disease regimes and with the demographic history of those entering old age now and in the decades to come. Their demographic history may make these cohorts vulnerable, even if economic and institutional conditions develop more favourably than recent trends suggest. This paper focuses on health profiles of the older population and examines evidence for the conjecture that health status of older persons has been significantly impacted by the evolution of mortality in countries of the region. The paper employs data from SABE (Survey on Health and Well-Being of Elders), a crosssectional representative sample of over 10,000 persons aged 60 or over in private homes in seven major cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Data from the United States Health and Retirement Study (HRS) provide a benchmark for comparison with SABE. Attention is given to patterns of self-reported health, self-reported chronic conditions and disability, as well as relationships between early childhood conditions and adult health, with a focus on diabetes. Although this investigation finds only weak empirical support for the hypotheses regarding the lingering effects of past health conditions, this may be due to limitations of the available data. We may have examined just the tip of the iceberg, and the possibility remains that the new cohorts reaching old age in the next twenty years will indeed be frailer and more vulnerable because of their demographic history and the current ecology of disease.