"We have never before been able to look at all three of these factors together and see how each interacts with the others to affect changes in health disparities," Zheng said.
The study is based on data from the National Health Interview Survey for the period from 1984 to 2007. The survey, which includes about 30,000 people each year, is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The survey asked respondents to rate their own health on a five-point scale from poor to excellent. While this is a self-report and not based on any objective health data, previous studies have shown that self-reported health is a good indicator of objective health and is actually better at predicting mortality among the elderly than doctor assessments, Zheng said.
The researchers took into account a variety of other factors that may affect health, including gender, race, marital status, work status, education and income.
Overall, the study found that late baby boomersthose born from 1955 to 1964reported better health than any other generation. In addition, self-rated health has significantly declined since the late 1990s.
One of the key findings was the large gap in self-reported health that opened up for people born since 1980. That means people are more spread out among the five health categories, from excellent to poor, Zheng said.
This data can't explain why health disparities grew, but research by other sociologists provides potential explanations, Zheng said.
For one, income inequality increased dramatically in the past three decades in the United States, which could impact accessibility to health care and other important resources.
Also, an increase in immigrants, both documented and undocumented, has probably changed the distribution of health ratings in the country, while the growing obesity crisis has added t
|Contact: Daniel Fowler|
American Sociological Association