Did the Prevalence of Disability in France Really Fall Sharply in the 1990s?

Short paper
A Discussion of Questions asked in the French Health Survey
By Emmanuelle Cambois, Jean-Marie Robine, Pierre Mormiche, Jonathan Mandelbaum


In 2002-2003, the French Health Survey included – for the third time since 1980 – a general question on “being hampered or disabled in daily life”. The responses obtained suggest that the prevalence of disability has fallen far more rapidly in the past decade than in earlier periods. Indeed, the drop exceeds the most optimistic scenarios. Our study devotes special attention to changes in the survey protocol and their possible influence on comparability of the latest results with those of previous surveys. The analysis shows that the general question in the 2002-2003 survey mainly records severe activity restrictions and proven (and thus relatively rare) disability situations, whereas the wording was designed to identify “basic limitations” as well, which are far more common. This selection was more pronounced in the latest survey than in its predecessors. In conclusion, the being hampered or disabled question does not provide continuity with the time series begun in 1980, but it yields additional information on the various types of functional problems via the situations of social disadvantage that it more specifically brings to light.

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