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Age, Sex and Disability
The likelihood of having a disability increases with age (see figure 1 and table 7 ). The survey data show a prevalence rate of 5.8 percent among persons less than 18 years old, 13.6 percent among persons 18 to 44 years old, 29.2 percent among persons 45 to 64 years old, 44.6 percent among persons 65 to 74 years old, 63.7 percent among persons 75 to 84 years old, and 84.2 percent among persons 85 years old and over.
Among persons with a disability, the likelihood that the disability will be severe also increases with age. The likelihood is 21.8 percent among persons less than 18 years old, 38.2 percent among persons 18 to 44, 52.2 percent among persons 45 to 64, 56.8 percent among person 65 to 74, 65.1 percent among persons 75 to 84, and 81.2 percent among persons 85 and over.
In general, disability rates are somewhat lower among males than among females. Males had a disability rate of 18.7 percent and a severe disability rate of 8.1 percent. The comparable rates among females were 20.2 percent and 11.0 percent.
Part of the explanation of differences between males and females has to do with age structure and the fact that disability rates increase with age. The proportion of the population who were 65 years old and over was 10.5 percent among males and 13.8 percent among females. Even within age categories, however, there were some differences in prevalence. In the 75 to 84 years old group, for example, the disability rate among males was 60.8 percent and the severe disability rate was 35.3 percent. The comparable rates among females were 65.6 percent and 45.5 percent.
Among children less than 18 years old, males were more likely than females to have a disability (7.2 percent compared to 4.4 percent).
Of the 48.9 million persons with a disability, 16.4 million (33.5 percent) were males under 65 years old, 16.0 million (32.7 percent) were females under 65 years old (the latter two figures are not statistically different from the comparable figures for males under 65), 6.5 million (13.4 percent) were males 65 years old and over, and 10.0 million (20.4 percent) were females 65 years old and over (see figure 2).
Of the 24.1 million persons with a severe disability, 6.2 million (25.7 percent) were males under 65, 7.5 million (31.1 percent) were females under 65, 3.7 million (15.5 percent) were males 65 and over, and 6.7 million (27.7 percent) were females 65 and over (see figure 3).
The data cited above show a strong relationship between age and the likelihood of a disability: persons 65 years and over made up 12.2 percent of the total population but they accounted for 33.8 percent of all persons with a disability, and 43.2 percent of all persons with a severe disability.
Certain definitional issues arise when trying to determine the link between age and disability. Of primary importance is the decision concerning the age at which working at a job or business is no longer counted as an expected life activity. The SIPP work disability questions were not asked of persons 68 years old and over. Yet some persons are interested in working at age 68 and beyond. The decision to restrict the universe for the work disability question to persons 16 to 67 affects the interpretation of the link between age and disability. The relationship between age and disability strengthens (in terms of the proportion of persons with specific disabilities who are 65 years old and over) when the areas of functional limitations, the need for assistance, and the use of special aids are examined. Questions on these topics were asked for persons 15 years old and over.
Persons 65 years old and over made up 56.8 percent of those with a severe functional limitation, 57.9 percent of those needing assistance with an ADL or IADL (the latter two figures are not statistically different), 64.6 percent of persons who use,wheelchairs, and 71.9 percent of those who used a cane, crutches, or a walker and who had used such an aid for 6 months or longer.