Population Reference Bureau’s Population Bulletin, “Aging in the United States,” examines recent trends and disparities among adults ages 65 and older, and how baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are reshaping America’s older population.

The current growth of the population ages 65 and older, driven by the large the baby boom generation, is unprecedented in U.S. history. As they have passed through each major stage of life, baby boomers (between ages 55 and 73 in 2019) have brought both challenges and opportunities to the economy, infrastructure, and institutions.

These key findings from the report were updated in June 2019 with the latest available data.

Demographic Shifts

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent.1

The older population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Between 2018 and 2060 the share of the older population that is non-Hispanic white is projected to drop from 77 percent to 55 percent.2

Despite the increased diversity in the older adult population, the more rapidly changing racial/ethnic composition of the population under age 18 relative to those ages 65 and older has created a diversity gap between generations.

Older adults are working longer. By 2018, 24 percent of men and about 16 percent of women ages 65 and older were in the labor force. These levels are projected to rise further by 2026, to 26 percent for men and 18 percent for women.3

Many parts of the country—especially counties in the rural Midwest—are aging in place because disproportionate shares of young people have moved elsewhere.

Positive Developments

Education levels are increasing. Among people ages 65 and older in 1965, only 5 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree or more. By 2018, this share had risen to 29 percent.4

Average U.S. life expectancy increased from 68 years in 1950 to 78.6 years in 2017, in large part due to the reduction in mortality at older ages.5

The gender gap in life expectancy is narrowing. In 1990, a seven-year gap in life expectancy existed between men and women. By 2017, this gap had narrowed to five years (76.1 years versus 81.1 years).6

The poverty rate for Americans ages 65 and older has dropped sharply during the past 50 years, from nearly 30 percent in 1966 to 9 percent today.7

Challenges

Obesity rates among adults ages 60 and older have been increasing, standing at about 41 percent in 2015-2016.8

Wide economic disparities are evident across different population subgroups. Among adults ages 65 and older, 17 percent of Latinos and 19 percent of African Americans lived in poverty in 2017—more than twice the rate among older non-Hispanic whites (7 percent).9

More older adults are divorced compared with previous generations. The share of divorced women ages 65 and older increased from 3 percent in 1980 to 14 percent in 2018, and for men from 4 percent to 11 percent during the same period.10

Over one-fourth (26 percent) of women ages 65 to 74 lived alone in 2018. This share jumped to 39 percent among women ages 75 to 84, and to 55 percent among women ages 85 and older.11

The aging of the baby boom generation could fuel more than a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care, to about 1.9 million in 2030 from 1.2 million in 2017.12

Demand for elder care will also be driven by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could more than double by 2050 to 13.8 million, from 5.8 million today.13

The large share of older adults also means that Social Security and Medicare expenditures will increase from a combined 8.7 percent of gross domestic product today to 11.8 percent by 2050.14

Policymakers can improve the outlook for the future by reducing current gaps in education, employment, and earnings among younger workers.

For More Information

Read more about issues related to aging in the United States with these PRB resources.

References

  1. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Projections.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Projections.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey; and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program.
  4. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC).
  5. Sherry L. Murphy et al., “Mortality in the United States, 2017,” NCHS Data Brief, no 328 (2018).
  6. Sherry L. Murphy et al., “Mortality in the United States, 2017.”
  7. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.
  8. Craig M. Hales et al., “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016,” NCHS Data Brief, no 288 (2017).
  9. U.S. Census Bureau, CPS ASEC.
  10. U.S. Census Bureau, CPS ASEC.
  11. U.S. Census Bureau, CPS ASEC.
  12. PRB analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey and Population Projections.
  13. Alzheimer’s Association, 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures (2019).
  14. Social Security Administration, Summary of the 2019 Annual Reports, accessed at www.ssa.gov/oact/TRSUM/, on June 27, 2019.