Columbia University in the City of New YorkThe John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Research on an Aging Society

Network launches "Aging Society Index" project with support of the Hartford Foundation.

Building on its substantial prior and ongoing work regarding Societal Aging, the Network has recently been funded by the John Hartford Foundation to develop  an index, termed the Hartford Index of Societal Aging, composed of reliable and sensitive economic and social indicators that permit accurate quantitative assessment of both current conditions and likely future trajectory of society along the principal policy dimensions of interest. . Such an index  is required if we are to measure the degree of success, or failure, of policies designed to facilitate successful societal aging and thus provide a context that facilitates the capacity of older persons to access the health care and social and economic supports needed to function effectively. The time has come to move beyond the archaic old-age dependency ratio, which equates old age with dependency and neglects many of the critical social, behavioral and economic factors that influence societal function.

Composition of the Index 

The principal domains initially identified for inclusion in the index are survival, equity, education, health care, productivity, engagement and cohesion.
 
Regarding the specific measures to be employed in each domain, experience shows that expert opinions vary substantially regarding the ‘best’ measure(s) among numerous potential candidates to be used for any social or economic domain.. Development of a consensus regarding the best components of such an index may be a time consuming process, and requires availability of clear evidence of the predictive value of each measure included and the reliability and precision of its measurement. Through a process outlined below we propose to identify one or two of the most appropriate, reliable and widely available measures for each domain or sub-domain.
 
INITIAL MEASURES SUGGESTED FOR THE MAJOR DOMAINS ARE LISTED BELOW. These measures have not yet been subjected to the analytical scrutiny required for inclusion in the final index.
 
Equity: 
  • A measure of the gaps in well-being, economic security and opportunity between the haves and have nots, both within and across generations. 
  • The Gini coefficient, an accepted measure of concentration of wealth in a national population, and measures of economic security such as savings levels and adequacy of social insurance.
 
Survival:
  • Life expectancy at various ages such as 0, 25, 50, 65, and 85. 
  • Measures of life expectancy at young, middle and old ages provide different insights into the life course active (disability free) life expectancy. 
 
Education:
  • Educational attainment  
  • Access to education at middle and later ages (?)
 
Access to affordable, high quality health care:
  • Availability of insurance, by age
  • Health insurance  quality, including s generosity ( actuarial value ) of benefits and  average out-of-pocket health expenditures
 
Productivity or engagement:
  • Age specific opportunity and utilization of both labor force and  non-market productive activities such as volunteering 
  • Retirement savings rates and types of savings vehicles such as availability of social security (uniform with the US), employer-provided pension plans (very heterogeneous), and private savings (strong social gradient)
  • Retirement age, rates of phased retirement (e.g. part time work, self-employment) 
 
Social and Human Capital Development:
  • Measures of social education and training
 
Cohesion:
  • Measures of tensions between generations, solidarity between generations, strength of social safety net, such as estimates of :
  • Age integration/segregation
  • Social supports/networks
  • Monetary and in-kind gifts between generations of family members and including non-traditional family members  
  • Caregiving and to whom 
  • Attitudes regarding intergenerational issues (support for child programs)
  • Attitudes towards government spending on pensions / on education 

Value of International Comparisons

The intent is to calculate the Index for the United States and several Western European countries. Whereas countries in Western Europe aged ahead of this country, reflecting their post–World War II baby bust and sustained reductions in total fertility below the replacement rate, the U.S. baby boom and higher fertility rate have combined to delay the emergence of an aging society (defined here as one with more individuals over age 65 years than under 15 years) by a couple decades. For instance, Germany currently has a population age distribution that the United States will not experience until 2030, and neither Germany’s society nor its economy have faced ruin. The experiences of the Western European countries, which are like the United States in many ways, and even the experience of japan, might be informative in many but surely not all domains as we seek to establish the policies this nation needs to adopt for a successful transition, to emerge as a productive and equitable aging society.

The MacArthur Research Network on an Aging is funded by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
© 2008 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
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