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Center for Policy Research


Healthier and Wealthier? The Changing Economic Circumstances of the Elderly

James P. Smith

April 1997


How is the economic status of the elderly changing and what are their prospects for the future? The authors' portrait tells us how well off they are on average, but also about the vast disparities that exist among them. This description includes an often neglected measure of their economic well-being--the amount of wealth they control. Amazingly little is known about how much personal wealth older people have and how and what determines its distribution. But the conventional definition of household wealth ignores two critical components of wealth: the expected income flows from pensions and Social Security. For some elderly households, Social Security represents the largest part of their wealth. The author concludes with some thoughts on one of the most sensitive and critical public policy issues--the necessity of reforming Social Security.


The Center for Policy Research at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University supports policy-relevant research and disseminates knowledge that enables leaders to make informed policy decisions and provide effective solutions to critical challenges in our local region, state, country and across the world.

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