UMass Boston Researchers Develop New Tool to Measure Elder Economics

January 22, 2013

Office of Communications


A team of faculty researchers at UMass Boston has developed a new tool to measure the widening gap between senior citizens’ income levels and the cost of living in their communities.

Faculty researchers at The Gerontology Institute, based in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, created the National Elder Economic Security Index to measure the financial needs of seniors. The Elder Index is geographically sensitive – adjusting for food and housing costs where seniors live – and considers other factors such as household size, health, and owner/renter status.

Researchers found widespread economic difficulty among seniors who live at the federal poverty level or who are totally dependent on earnings from Social Security. These seniors require additional support to meet their housing and health-care needs.

Rather than measuring what seniors must earn to survive, the Elder Index is designed to determine adequate income levels that allow older adults to live independently. The Elder Index assumes no government income support aside from Medicare.

“Economic well-being is based not only on income but also required expenses,” said Gerontology Institute Director Ellen Bruce, a lead author of the study. “The Elder Index allows us to measure the gap between income and expenses. Individuals, policymakers, and service providers can use this tool to evaluate the need for personal savings and government supports such as food assistance, energy assistance, subsidized housing, or property tax help.”

Professor Jan Mutchler led the research team for the Elder Index project. To read the full report, go to