The Methuselah Effect: The Pernicious Impact of Unreported Deaths on Old Age Mortality Estimates

Forthcoming, Demography

45 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2017

See all articles by Dan Black

Dan Black

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Yu-Chieh Hsu

University of Chicago

Seth G. Sanders

Duke University

Lynne Steuerle Schofield

Swarthmore College

Lowell J. Taylor

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 20, 2017

Abstract

We examine inferences about old age mortality that arise when researchers use survey data matched to death records. We show that even small rates of failure to match respondents can lead to substantial bias in the measurement of mortality rates at older ages. This type of measurement error is consequential for three strands in the demographic literature: (1) the deceleration in mortality rates at old ages, (2) the black-white mortality crossover, and (3) the relatively low rate of old age mortality among Hispanics — often called the “Hispanic paradox.” Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Older Men (NLS-OM) matched to death records in both the U.S. Vital Statistics system and the Social Security Death Index, we demonstrate that even small rates of missing mortality matching plausibly lead to an appearance of mortality deceleration when none exists, and can generate a spurious black-white mortality crossover. We confirm these findings using data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) matched to the U.S. Vital Statistics system, a dataset known as the “gold standard” (Cowper et al., 2002) for estimating age-specific mortality. Moreover, with these data we show that the Hispanic paradox is also plausibly explained by a similar undercount.

Keywords: Hispanic Paradox, Black-White Mortality Crossover, Old-Age Mortality

JEL Classification: I14, J10, J14

Suggested Citation

Black, Dan and Hsu, Yu-Chieh and Sanders, Seth G. and Steuerle Schofield, Lynne and Taylor, Lowell J., The Methuselah Effect: The Pernicious Impact of Unreported Deaths on Old Age Mortality Estimates (March 20, 2017). Forthcoming, Demography. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3008901 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3008901

Dan Black (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Yu-Chieh Hsu

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Seth G. Sanders

Duke University ( email )

100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

Lynne Steuerle Schofield

Swarthmore College

500 College Ave
Swarthmore, PA 19081
United States

Lowell J. Taylor

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-3278 (Phone)
412-268-7036 (Fax)

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