About 52 million Americans are age 65 or older, according to the Census Bureau’s 2018 population estimates. One quarter of these older Americans live in one of three states: California, Florida, and Texas. Seven other states—Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—account for another one-quarter of Americans age 65 or older. These 10 states are also the most populous and include over half of the total U.S. population. Sparsely populated states such as Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Vermont have very small older populations—less than 150,000 each in 2018.

But the states with the most adults age 65 or older do not necessarily have the oldest population age profiles. California is a relatively young state even though it has the largest number of older residents: Only 14.3% of the state’s total population was age 65 or older in 2018. In contrast, 20.6% of Maine’s population was age 65 or older, the highest share of any state, followed closely by Florida with 20.5% (see table).

 

States Ranked by Percent of Population Age 65 or Older, 2018

Rank State Total Resident Population (thousands) Population Ages 65+ (thousands) Population Ages 65+ (percent)
1 Maine 1,338 276 20.6
2 Florida 21,299 4,358 20.5
3 West Virginia 1,806 360 19.9
4 Vermont 626 121 19.4
5 Delaware 967 181 18.7
6 Montana 1,062 199 18.7
7 Hawaii 1,420 261 18.4
8 Pennsylvania 12,807 2,336 18.2
9 New Hampshire 1,356 246 18.1
10 South Carolina 5,084 900 17.7
11 Oregon 4,191 739 17.6
12 Arizona 7,172 1,258 17.5
12 New Mexico 2,095 366 17.5
14 Connecticut 3,573 615 17.2
14 Michigan 9,996 1,717 17.2
14 Rhode Island 1,057 182 17.2
17 Iowa 3,156 540 17.1
17 Ohio 11,689 1,995 17.1
19 Arkansas 3,014 512 17.0
19 Wisconsin 5,814 985 17.0
21 Alabama 4,888 827 16.9
21 Missouri 6,126 1,034 16.9
23 South Dakota 882 147 16.6
24 Massachusetts 6,902 1,139 16.5
24 Wyoming 578 95 16.5
26 Kentucky 4,468 731 16.4
26 New York 19,542 3,214 16.4
26 Tennessee 6,770 1,110 16.4
29 North Carolina 10,384 1,689 16.3
30 New Jersey 8,909 1,439 16.1
31 Idaho 1,754 278 15.9
31 Kansas 2,912 462 15.9
31 Minnesota 5,611 890 15.9
31 Mississippi 2,987 474 15.9
35 Indiana 6,692 1,055 15.8
36 Nebraska 1,929 304 15.7
36 Nevada 3,034 476 15.7
36 Oklahoma 3,943 620 15.7
39 Illinois 12,741 1,993 15.6
40 Louisiana 4,660 718 15.4
40 Maryland 6,043 931 15.4
40 Virginia 8,518 1,315 15.4
40 Washington 7,536 1,164 15.4
44 North Dakota 760 117 15.3
45 California 39,557 5,669 14.3
46 Colorado 5,696 808 14.2
47 Georgia 10,519 1,460 13.9
48 Texas 28,702 3,602 12.6
49 Alaska 737 87 11.8
50 Utah 3,161 350 11.1

Note: Older adults (ages 65+) made up 12.1% of the District of Columbia’s population and 20.7% of Puerto Rico’s population in 2018.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Vintage 2018 Population Estimates.


While southern states are regarded as retirement magnets, states in the Northeast and Midwest have among the largest proportional shares of older adults. What’s driving these regional patterns?

Migration, both internal and international, has a large impact on the distribution of older adults. States that have attracted older retirees, such as Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and South Carolina, have larger proportions of older residents. Many states in the Midwest and Northeast also have large shares of older adults, but for different reasons. As young adults in these states have moved south and west looking for educational and job opportunities, the older population is left to age in place. In contrast, California and Texas have been popular destinations for state-to-state and international migrants, which has kept their populations relatively young.

The share of older adults will continue to increase as more members of the large baby boom cohort reach retirement age. By 2040, 26 states are projected to have age profiles similar to those of Florida and Maine today, with at least 20% of their residents age 65 or older. This demographic shift has implications for many federal and state programs that support older adults. As more Americans become eligible for federal entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, spending reductions and tax increases may be inevitable.

Excerpted from PRB’s Population Bulletin, “Elderly Americans,” by Christine L. Himes, and updated in 2019.

 

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