Social Security and Mortality

The Role of Income Support Policies and Population Health in the United States

While much public attention has focused on the high cost of Social Security, less has been paid to the safety-net aspect of the program that keeps some 44 percent of U.S. elderly out of poverty. Even less consideration has been given to the potential effects of Social Security on the public’s health.

These researchers hypothesized that improvements in socioeconomic status due to the Social Security program have benefited the health and longevity of the elderly over the 70 years since it was implemented in 1940. Declines in mortality among the elderly exceeded those of younger age groups after Social Security was implemented and after marked improvements were made to it in the mid-1960s and early 1970s.

Most of the non-infectious disease mortality declines through the first 80 years of the 20th century can be attributed to the elderly and Social Security, and not solely to antibiotics, which likely would affect all age groups more or less equally.

The role of Social Security in alleviating poverty and improving public health through reducing health-related socioeconomic disparities among the elderly should not be ignored as policy-makers consider altering Social Security for future generations.

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