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Aging Statistics In America

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Fact Sheet on Aging In America

Demographics

The number of Americans age 55 and older will almost double between now and 2030 – from 60 million today (21 percent of the total US population) to 107.6 million (31 percent of the population) – as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age.

During that same period of time, the number of Americans over 65 will more than double, from 34.8 million in 2000 (12 percent of the population) to 70.3 million in 2030 (20 percent of the total population).

The next generation of retirees will be the healthiest, longest lived, best educated, most affluent in history.

Americans reaching age 65 today have an average life expectancy of an additional 17.9 years (19.2 years for females and 16.3 years for males).

The likelihood that an American who reaches the age of 65 will survive to the age of 90 has nearly doubled over the past 40 years – from just 14 percent of 65-year-olds in 1960 to 25 percent at present. By 2050, 40 percent of 65-year-olds are likely to reach age 90.

Education and Income

The older population is becoming better educated. While less than one-third of today’s adults aged 70-74 have at least some college education, that percentage will increase to more than 50 percent by 2015.

Most older Americans today have more financial resources than did previous generations. Households headed by persons age 65 and older reported a median income in 2000 of $32,854 ($33,467 for whites, $27,952 for African-Americans, and $24,330 for Hispanics). While one of every eight (12.1 percent) households headed by someone age 65 or older had incomes less than $15,000, nearly half (49.2 percent) had annual incomes of $35,000 or more, and nearly three in ten households (29.8 percent) had incomes greater than $50,000 per year.

Older Volunteers

Nearly half of all Americans age 55 and over volunteered at least once in the past year. Even among those age 75 and older, 43 percent had volunteered at some point in the previous year. 

Older Adults as Volunteers

Age 55 to 64

Age 65 to 74

Age 75+

% of age group who volunteer

50.3 %

46.6 %

43.0 %

Total number of volunteers

11.9 million

8.5 million

7.1 million

Avg. weekly hours/volunteer

3.3 hours

3.6 hours

3.1 hours

Total time volunteered annually

4.8 billion hours

1.6 billion hours

1.1 billion hours

Older volunteers devoted the most time to community activities–almost double the national median for all ages. Compared with the U.S. median commitment of 52 volunteer hours annually, those 65 and over contributed 96 hours per year. (U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Volunteering in the United States,” December 2002).

The number of older volunteers could be expanded substantially if more were asked to volunteer or were offered an incentive to serve.

Just 17 percent of adults age 55 and over who were not directly asked to volunteer did volunteer on their own. Among those who were asked, however, 84 percent– or more than four times as many – volunteered.

According to the 2002 Hart survey sponsored by Civic Ventures, an additional 21 percent of older Americans would commit at least five hours a week to volunteering if they received a small incentive for their service, such as discounts on prescription drugs and/or a $200/month stipend. Offering such an incentive could double the current older adult volunteer workforce.

The Emergence Of A New Life Stage

Older Americans no longer see retirement as an “endless vacation,” but increasingly as an active, engaged phase of life that includes work and public service.

Pre-retirees who plan to work in retirement

Working retirees

Total

Desire to stay mentally active

87

68

83

Desire to stay physically active

85

61

80

Desire to remain productive or useful

77

73

76

Desire to do something fun or enjoyable

71

49

66

Need health benefits

66

20

56

Desire to help other people

59

44

56

Desire to be around people

58

47

55

Need the money

54

51

53

Desire to learn new things

50

37

48

Desire to pursue a dream

32

20

29

Source: AARP, “Staying Ahead of the Curve 2003”
* Respondents could choose as many factors as applicable to them.

A 2003 survey conducted for AARP found that many Americans between the ages of 50 and 70 plan to work far into what has traditionally been viewed as their “retirement years”:

  • Nearly half of all pre-retirees (45 percent) expect to continue working into their 70s or later. Of this group, 27 percent said they would work until they were in their 70s, and 18 percent said “80 or older,” “never stop working,” or “as long as they are able to work.”
  • The most common reasons given by pre-retirees for wanting to continue working in retirement were the desire to stay “mentally active” (87 percent) or “physically active” (85 percent), and the desire “to remain productive or useful” (77 percent). Slightly more than half of the pre-retirees (54 percent) indicated that their motivation was based on “a need for money.” (S. Kathi Brown, “Staying Ahead of the Curve 2003: The AARP Working in Retirement Study,” Washington, DC: AARP, 2003).
  • The result of these demographic trends is the emergence of a new life-stage between adulthood and true old age – which has been called the “third age” or “midcourse” or “my time.”

“The third age is no longer a brief intermezzo between midlife and drastic decline… [Instead, it] has the potential to become the best stage of all, an age of liberation when individuals combine newfound freedoms with prolonged health and the chance to make some of their most important contributions to life.”

— Mark Freedman, founder of Civic Ventures, author of PrimeTime: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America.

“[Midcourse] connotes the period in which individuals begin to think about, plan for, and actually disengage from their primary career occupations and the raising of children; launch second or third careers; develop new identities and new ways to be productively engaged; establish new patterns of relating to spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends; leave some existing relationships and begin new ones…. The fact that most retirees say that they retired ‘to do other things’ suggests that midcoursers are retiring to move to something else, not simply from boring or demanding jobs.”

— Phyllis Moen, McKnight Presidential Chair, Sociology, University of Minnesota. From: “Midcourse: Navigating Retirement and a New Life Stage.” In Jeylan Mortimer and Michael J. Shanahan, eds., Handbook of the Life Course. New York: Kluwer Publishers, 2003.

“Something huge is happening here… The emergence of an older, more vigorous population is the most significant story of our times.”

— Abigail Trafford, Washington Post health columnist and author, My Time: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life.

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For More Information

The following Web sites are good sources of data on older Americans:

AARP www.aarp.org
AARP conducts and publishes a wide range of studies on aging. Most of it is available at their Online Research Center at http://research.aarp.org.

Administration on Aging www.aoa.gov
This government agency, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides a great deal of information about the economic and health status of older Americans.

U.S. Census Bureau www.census.gov
Provides a wide range of statistics on demographics as well as economics of Americans of all ages.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services http://cms.hhs.gov/researchers
A good source for data on the health status of older Americans.

Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics http://www.agingstats.gov/chartbook2000
This site provides access to a comprehensive report, Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being.

Civic Ventures www.civicventures.org
This non-profit organization, which is the parent of Experience Corps, conducts research and publishes studies on topics such as attitudes toward retirement and volunteering and civic engagement among older Americans. Most of this research is available online.

Independent Sector www.independentsector.org
An excellent source of information about the involvement of Americans as volunteers. Independent Sector has just published a new report, Experience at Work: Volunteering and Giving Among Americans 50 and Over.

International Longevity Center www.ilcusa.org
An independent research organization that conducts and publishes research on many subjects related to the extension of the life span and its social and economic impacts.

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Other Organizations That Advocate For Older Americans:

Generations United www.gu.org
Generations United (GU) focuses solely on promoting intergenerational strategies, programs, and policies. GU serves as a resource for educating policymakers and the public about the economic, social, and personal imperatives of intergenerational cooperation.

National Council on Aging (NCOA) www.ncoa.org
Founded in 1950, NCOA is the nation’s first association of organizations and professionals dedicated to promoting the dignity, self-determination, well being, and contributions of older persons.

Senior Corps www.seniorcorps.org
Senior Corps is a network of programs that tap the experience, skills, and talents of older citizens to meet community challenges with Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, and RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program). Senior Corps, part of the USA Freedom Corps, is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that also oversees AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America.

This fact sheet is available as a pdf, click here to download.

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Additional Senior Resources may be found in our Senior Citizens Resource Directory. If you know of other senior resources that should be listed in our directory, please do not hesitate to add them. Thank you.

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