(April 2003) There were 35 million Americans age 65 or older counted in the 2000 Census. One quarter of these elderly Americans live in one of three states: California, Florida, and New York. Six other states — Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have more than 1 million elderly each and account for another one-quarter of Americans age 65 or older. These nine states are also the most populous, and include about one-half of the total U.S. population. Sparsely populated states such as Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota have very small elderly populations — less than 100,000 each in 2000.

But the states with the most elderly do not necessarily have the oldest population age profiles. California is still a relatively young state even though it has the greatest number of elderly residents: Less than 11 percent of the state's total population was age 65 or older in 2000. In contrast, nearly 18 percent of Florida's population was age 65 or older, the highest proportion of any state (see table). The older population also exceeded 15 percent of the populations of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. While southern states are regarded as retirement magnets, states in the Northeast and Midwest have among the largest proportional share of the elderly.


States Ranked by Percent of Population Age 65 or Older, 2000

Rank State Total resident population (thousands) Population age 65+ (thousands) Percent of population age 65+
1 Florida 15,982 2,808 17.6
2 Pennsylvania 12,281 1,919 15.6
3 West Virginia 1,808 277 15.3
4 Iowa 2,926 436 14.9
5 North Dakota 642 94 14.7
6 Rhode Island 1,048 152 14.5
7 Maine 1,275 183 14.4
8 South Dakota 755 108 14.3
9 Arkansas 2,673 374 14.0
10 Connecticut 3,406 470 13.8
11 Nebraska 1,711 232 13.6
12 Massachusetts 6,349 860 13.5
13 Missouri 5,595 755 13.5
14 Montana 902 121 13.4
15 Ohio 11,353 1,508 13.3
16 Hawaii 1,212 161 13.3
17 Kansas 2,688 356 13.3
18 New Jersey 8,414 1,113 13.2
19 Oklahoma 3,451 456 13.2
20 Wisconsin 5,364 703 13.1
21 Alabama 4,447 580 13.0
22 Arizona 5,131 668 13.0
23 Delaware 784 102 13.0
24 New York 18,976 2,448 12.9
25 Oregon 3,421 438 12.8
26 Vermont 609 78 12.7
27 Kentucky 4,042 505 12.5
28 Indiana 6,080 753 12.4
29 Tennessee 5,689 703 12.4
30 Michigan 9,938 1,219 12.3
31 District of Columbia 572 70 12.2
32 South Carolina 4,012 485 12.1
33 Minnesota 4,919 594 12.1
34 Illinois 12,419 1,500 12.1
35 Mississippi 2,845 344 12.1
36 North Carolina 8,049 969 12.0
37 New Hampshire 1,236 148 12.0
38 Wyoming 494 58 11.7
39 New Mexico 1,819 212 11.7
40 Louisiana 4,469 517 11.6
41 Maryland 5,296 599 11.3
42 Idaho 1,294 146 11.3
43 Washington 5,894 662 11.2
44 Virginia 7,079 792 11.2
45 Nevada 1,998 219 11.0
46 California 33,872 3,596 10.6
47 Texas 20,852 2,073 9.9
48 Colorado 4,301 416 9.7
49 Georgia 8,186 785 9.6
50 Utah 2,233 190 8.5
51 Alaska 627 36 5.7

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Demographic Profiles: Census 2000, accessed at www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/demoprofile.htm, on Sept. 19, 2001).


The differences in states' age profiles are determined primarily by fertility and migration — mortality is fairly uniform among states. States with relatively high fertility rates, such as Utah, tend to have a younger age profile: A smaller proportion of state residents are age 65 or older. Migration, both internal and international, has a large impact on the elderly population's distribution. States in the Midwest and Northeast have seen steady outflows of younger people looking for job opportunities. As these younger people move south and west, the older population is left to "age in place." California has been a traditional destination for state-to-state and international migrants, which has kept its population relatively young. States that have attracted older retirees, Florida in particular, have greater proportions of older residents.


Christine L. Himes is associate professor of sociology and senior research analyst at the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University.


Excerpted from PRB's Population Bulletin "Elderly Americans," by Christine L. Himes.