CDE Working Paper 2017-03

A New Look at the Living Arrangements of Older Americans using Multistate Life Tables

James M. Raymo, Isabel Pike, and Jersey Liang


Existing research on the living arrangements of older Americans is limited in that it pays little attention to geographic proximity to children (proximate residence) and uses data from cross-sectional or short panel surveys. We address these limitations by using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) over a period of 14 years (1998-2012) to construct multistate life tables. These analyses allow us to describe the lives of older Americans between ages 65 and 90 in terms of the number of expected years of life in different living arrangements - reflecting both mortality and living arrangement transitions across later life. By conducting analyses separately by sex, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment, we provide a comprehensive descriptive portrait of sociodemographic differences in living arrangements across older ages in the U.S. Results show that a large proportion of older Americans lives near, but not with, their adult children and that the prevalence of different living arrangements is relatively stable across older ages although changes in living arrangements are common. We also show that overall life expectancy is not strongly related to living arrangements at age 65 and that living arrangement-specific life expectancy differs markedly by race/ethnicity and educational attainment. We discuss the potential implications of these differences for access to support and the exacerbation or mitigation of inequalities at older ages.