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).
|Rank||State||Total Resident Population (thousands)||Population Ages 65+ (thousands)||Population Ages 65+ (percent)|
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.