Demographics of the Aging Population

The growth in the number and proportion of older adults is unprecedented in the history of the United States. Two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 and older from 2000 to 2030. In 2030, persons aged 65 and older will comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population. Women tend to live longer than men, which creates a gender disparity as the population ages (58 percent of the population 65 and older are women).

Today older Americans are generally healthier, more educated, more financially secure, and more active than previous generations. Life expectancy continues to increase—the Census Bureau estimates that the number of centenarians in the United States is doubling every decade.

Projected Growth in the Number and Percentage of People Age 65 and Older

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Interim State Population Projections, 2005.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in its report, 65+ in the United States: 2005, documented the following trends:

  • The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
  • The health of older Americans is improving. Still, many are disabled and suffer from chronic conditions. About 14 million people age 65 and older reported some level of disability in Census 2000, mostly linked to a high prevalence of chronic conditions such as heart disease or arthritis.
  • The financial circumstances of older people have improved dramatically, although there are wide variations in income and wealth. In 2000, the poorest fifth of senior households had a net worth of $3,500 ($44,346 including home equity) and the wealthiest had $328,432 ($449,800 including home equity).
  • As the United States as a whole grows more diverse, so does the population age 65 and older. In 2003, older Americans were 83 percent non-Hispanic white, 8 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian. By 2030, an estimated 72 percent of older Americans will be non-Hispanic white, 11 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black and 5 percent Asian.
  • Changes in the American family have significant implications for future aging. Divorce, for example, is on the rise. In 2003, among people in their early 60s, 12 percent of men and 16 percent of women were divorced.

The increase in diversity of the older population, including the immigrant population, will likely impact the need for cultural and language services. There is a little-researched phenomenon known as "second language loss" in the older population, in which older adults find greater difficulty communicating in their adopted language and revert to their native language. Language access will be a challenge for many institutions, including the courts.