Ethnicity and changing functional health in middle and late life: A person-centered approach

Jersey Liang, Xiao Xu, Joan M. Bennett, Wen Ye, Ana R. Quiñones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Objectives.Following a person-centered approach, this research aims to depict distinct courses of disability and to ascertain how the probabilities of experiencing these trajectories vary across Black, Hispanic, and White middle-aged and older Americans. Methods.Data came from the 1995-2006 Health and Retirement Study, which involved a national sample of 18,486 Americans older than 50 years of age. Group-based semiparametric mixture models (Proc Traj) were used for data analysis. Results.Five trajectories were identified: (a) excellent functional health (61%), (b) good functional health with small increasing disability (25%), (c) accelerated increase in disability (7%), (d) high but stable disability (4%), and (e) persistent severe impairment (3%). However, when time-varying covariates (e.g., martial status and health conditions) were controlled, only 3 trajectories emerged: (a) healthy functioning (53%), moderate functional decrement (40%), and (c) large functional decrement (8%). Black and Hispanic Americans had significantly higher probabilities than White Americans in experiencing poor functional health trajectories, with Blacks at greater risks than Hispanics. Conclusions.Parallel to the concepts of successful aging, usual aging, and pathological aging, there exist distinct courses of changing functional health over time. The mechanisms underlying changes in disability may vary between Black and Hispanic Americans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)470-481
Number of pages12
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Volume65 B
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Group-based mixture models
  • Health disparities
  • Minority aging (race/ethnicity)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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