The Health of an Aging Nation

Improvements to Social Security associated with longer life span

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People over 65 years of age are likely to live longer when Social Security benefits are improved, according to researchers at New York Medical College.

In a recent study, researchers showed that rates of death among Americans over the age of 65 drastically decreased following the founding of Social Security. Mortality rates also decreased after subsequent improvements to the Social Security program.

Peter Arno, Ph.D., director of the doctoral program in the Department of Health Policy and Management at New York Medical College, examined the impact of Social Security on the rates of death throughout the course of the 20th century. Even though rates of death decreased for all adults during the 20th century, the researchers found that the rates of decline for those 65 years of age and older changed by more than 50 percent in the decades after Social Security was introduced in 1940, while rates of decline in death for younger age groups remained practically the same during that period of time. The trend of declining mortality rates among senior citizens was especially apparent in the 1960s and 1970s when there were large improvements to Social Security benefits.

The benefits of Social Security for senior citizens is particularly relevant at this moment, as policy makers debate changes that must be made to the Social Security system. The authors of this study encourage President Obama and Congress to think about the benefits of reduced mortality and improved health among older Americans. On the other hand, living longer means that senior citizens will put a greater strain on both the Social Security and the Medicare and Medicaid systems, costing even more money and more resources.

The current focus of the political discussion surrounding Social Security is the long-term finical strain of the system, says Arno. Instead, policy makers should be looking at the benefits of a healthier and less impoverished public.

The reduced mortality rates associated with Social Security observed in this study support evidence from past studies that showed how increases in supplemental security income (SSI) benefits helped to reduce mortality and disability among recipients. Previous studies have also shown that improving the health status of elderly individuals may reduce other financial impacts, such as lowering Medicare expenses.

As policy makers consider large cuts to Social Security benefits, Arno urges them to recognize Social Security's role in reducing mortality and poverty in the United States.

As of January 2011, nearly eight million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits, totaling over $4.2 billion.

The study by Arno and colleagues appears in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

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Review Date: 
February 18, 2011
Last Updated:
February 21, 2011