Hispanics are a relatively youthful population, with only 5 percent being 65 and older (Bureau of the Census, 1993), but that proportion varies markedly across the ethnic subgroups. Less than 5 percent of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans are in the elderly age group, whereas 17 percent of Cuban Americans are elderly (Bureau of the Census, 1990).
The limited gerontological research on older Hispanics has tended to focus on the importance of the strength of family ties and how these might be changing with greater industrialization, urbanization, and the acculturation of younger generations into the larger society (Angel and Hogan, 1991; Bastida, 1984; Lacayo, 1992; Markides and Martin, 1983; Paz, 1993; Sotomayor and Garcia, 1993). Despite increases in education and acculturation across generations, the elderly in various Hispanic groups appear to enjoy good relationships with their children (Markides et al., 1986), experiencing closer proximity, more frequent contact, and stronger familial attitudes than Anglo elderly (Keefe and Padilla, 1987; Sabogal et al., 1987).
Other research has pointed out the needs of Hispanic elderly for health and social services, has emphasized the importance of linguistic and cultural barriers to adequate service provision, and has discussed the need for culturally sensitive health care and social services (e.g., Ginzberg, 1991; Ramirez de Arellano, 1994; Wolinsky et al., 1989). The literature on the non-Cuban Hispanic elderly has emphasized their low education, low incomes, and generally low political power and socioeconomic standing in society (e.g., Sotomayor and Garcia, 1993).
Despite their disadvantaged socioeconomic status, Hispanics appear to have a generally favorable mortality profile (see reviews by Hayes-Bautista, 1992; Markides and Coreil, 1986; Rosenwaike, 1991; Vega and Amaro, 1994). As early as 1970, regional epidemiological evidence suggested that Spanish surnamed persons (largely Mexican Americans) had a life expectancy only slightly below that of Anglos and markedly higher than that of blacks (Bradshaw and Fonner, 1978; Schoen and Nelson, 1981; Siegel and Passel, 1979). Regional data for 1980 indicated that the already small Hispanic-Anglo gap in life expectancy had narrowed even further (California Center for Health Statistics, 1984; Gillespie and Sullivan, 1983). More recently, national data have provided more definitive evidence that older Hispanics appear to be advantaged relative to both Anglos and blacks in terms of mortality (Sorlie et al., 1993; National Center for Health Statistics, 1994).
For the period 1989-1991, Hispanics in the age group 65 to 74 experienced 1,975 deaths per 100,000 population. In comparison, non-Hispanic whites had a death rate of 2,575 and blacks a death rate of 3,735. The Hispanic advantage held for deaths due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, and all other causes combined. Middle-aged (45 to 64 years) Hispanics experienced a similar advantage in rates