The United States is undergoing a significant demographic shift, characterized by a rapidly growing population of individuals aged 65 and over. This demographic transformation brings with it both opportunities and challenges that will shape the nation’s future.
According to the latest census data, the percentage of Americans aged 65 or older has surged since 2010, reaching nearly 1 in 6 individuals. This surge is primarily attributed to the Baby Boomer generation, as the first members crossed the venerable age marker in 2011.
While the rise in the number of seniors is a significant development, it is juxtaposed by a decline in the percentage of American youths under the age of 18.
As we celebrate Older Americans Month in May, it is crucial to recognize the ever-present reality of an aging population.
In 2021, approximately 17% of Americans belonged to the 65-plus age group, which marked an increase of nearly 4 percentage points compared to 2010.
Conversely, the under-18 population saw a decline of about 2 points, settling at roughly 22% in 2021 as compared to 24% in 2010.
These figures extend beyond mere percentages; they reflect a shift in the overall population composition. During this period, the United States witnessed a reduction of approximately 1 million individuals under 18, while simultaneously adding approximately 1.5 million seniors.
Couples having fewer kids
Obviously, people are living longer these days but the fertility rate is the primary reason we’re seeing such a boom in the 65+ demographic. And this phenomenon isn’t limited to the States. Worldwide, the fertility rate has fallen rapidly. In 1950, the average global family had 4.7 kids compared to only 2.4 today. (Source BBC)
In 2018, the average American adult woman had 1.7 children, a sizeable decrease from 7 in 1800. In fact, sans the Baby Boom (when the U.S. fertility rate jumped to 3.62), American women have consistently been having fewer kids over time.
In late 2021, some 44% of childless Americans ages 18 to 49 say having children is unlikely or definitely not in the cards at all – a sizeable increase from the 37% who said the same just 3 years prior.
Why do nearly half of childless American adults say they aren’t keen on having kids?
Fifty-six percent (56%) of the aforementioned demographic weren’t specific, insisting they simply didn’t want to have kids. Period.
The remaining 43% offered the reasons below:
19% – Medical issues
17% – Money
15% – Lack of a quality partner
10% – One or both partners are deemed too old
9% – State of the world (global warming, environment, etc)
The age composition of the country carries profound implications for various socioeconomic factors. From the size of the nation’s workforce to the strain on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, the graying of America permeates through policy discussions in Washington. However, it is important to acknowledge that not all regions or states face identical challenges simultaneously.
Analyzing the regional distribution of older Americans, the Northeastern states emerge as having the largest share, with approximately 18% of the total population in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont falling within the 65-or-older age bracket.
The Midwest, spanning from Ohio to Kansas and extending north to the Canadian border, follows closely behind with 17% of its population comprising seniors. The South, encompassing states from Delaware to Texas, has a 16.6% share, while the West, stretching from Montana to New Mexico and reaching into the Pacific, exhibits the lowest proportion of older Americans, at less than 16%.
It is worth noting that the 65-plus population has grown at a similar rate across all regions during this time, with increases ranging from 3.6 to 4 percentage points. However, the higher numbers observed in the Northeastern states are likely to exert a more substantial impact on workforces and entitlement programs in that specific region.
Delving further into the state-level data, the concentration of older Americans becomes even more apparent. Within the Northeastern cluster of states, Maine stands out with the largest share of residents aged 65 and over, accounting for nearly 22% of its population falling within this demographic group.
On the other hand, states in the Western region, such as California, Colorado, Alaska, and Utah, demonstrate smaller 65-plus population shares, with less than 12% of their respective populations being 65 or older.
As the population continues to age, it is imperative for policymakers, businesses, and individuals to address the challenges and opportunities that come with this transformation. Ensuring adequate healthcare, promoting active aging, and developing policies that support the financial well-being of older Americans are important considerations. Here are some key areas that warrant attention:
- Healthcare and Long-Term Care: With a growing population of older adults, there is an increased demand for healthcare services, particularly specialized care for age-related conditions. Ensuring access to quality healthcare and long-term care options becomes crucial. Investing in geriatric care, expanding Medicare coverage, and fostering innovations in telemedicine can help meet the healthcare needs of older Americans.
- Workforce and Retirement: The aging population poses challenges to the labor market. As more individuals retire, there is a need to address potential labor shortages and skill gaps. Encouraging flexible work options, promoting age-inclusive workplaces, and supporting lifelong learning opportunities can help older adults stay engaged in the workforce while benefiting from their experience and expertise.
- Social Security and Retirement Savings: As the number of retirees increases, the sustainability of social security systems and retirement savings becomes a pressing issue. Policymakers need to explore strategies to ensure the long-term viability of these programs, such as adjusting retirement ages, promoting financial literacy, and encouraging personal savings through tax incentives and employer-sponsored retirement plans.
- Housing and Livable Communities: Older adults often have unique housing needs, including accessibility, safety, and affordability. Creating age-friendly communities with suitable housing options, accessible transportation, and supportive services can enhance the quality of life for seniors. Additionally, promoting intergenerational connections and designing communities that facilitate active aging can foster social engagement and overall well-being.
- Healthcare Workforce and Caregiving Support: The rising demand for healthcare services necessitates an adequate healthcare workforce. This includes not only doctors and nurses but also caregivers who provide assistance to older adults. Investing in training programs, incentivizing careers in geriatric care, and implementing caregiver support policies can help address workforce shortages and ensure quality care for older Americans.
- Financial Planning and Elder Financial Abuse: As older adults manage their finances, they may be more susceptible to financial exploitation and scams. Promoting financial literacy, strengthening consumer protections, and raising awareness about elder financial abuse can help protect seniors and preserve their financial security.
- Social Engagement and Mental Health: Combatting social isolation and promoting mental well-being among older adults is crucial. Creating opportunities for social engagement, fostering community involvement, and expanding mental health services tailored to the needs of seniors can enhance their overall quality of life.
As we navigate the challenges presented by a graying America, it is essential to recognize the immense value that older adults bring to our society. Their wisdom, experience, and contributions should be celebrated and utilized to drive positive change. By addressing the specific needs and concerns of the aging population, we can ensure a vibrant and inclusive future for all Americans.