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 that people age 65 and older represented 16 percent of the population in 2019 and will represent 21.6 percent by 2040.

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

Source: Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 2021.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in its report, 2020 Profile of Older Americans, documented the following trends:

  • More than half of the older population was between the ages of 65 and 74.
  • The health of older Americans is improving. Still, the proportion  of the older population with some disability increased with age.  Nearly half of those those 85 and older reporting having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
  • The financial circumstances of older people have improved dramatically, although there are wide variations in income and wealth. Women 85 and older experienced the highest poverty rate at 13 percent compared to their male counterparts (8 percent).
  • As the United States as a whole grows more diverse, so does the population age 65 and older. In 2016, older Americans were 61.1 percent non-Hispanic white, 12.3 percent black, 17.8 percent Hispanic, 5.4 percent Asian, 0.7 percent American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 0.2 percent some other race, and 2.4 percent two or more races.
  • Changes in the American family have significant implications for future aging. Divorce, for example, is on the rise. In 2016, among people ages 65 to 74, 14 percent of men and 18 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.