It is easy—and dangerous—to create stereotypes of older adults. Just when you think you have a picture in your head of what a senior is, you realize how very different they are. To borrow a phrase: You’ve seen one older adult and, you’ve seen one older adult.
The 50 million Americans over 65 are more economically and racially diverse than ever, according to a new Profile of Older Americans by the federal Administration for Community Living. Nearly one in ten lives in poverty, but many are financially secure. Today’s seniors will live longer in old age than any generation in history. Many will live to healthy old ages but one in five will need personal care after they reach age 85. Only about 14 percent of all older adults live alone, but nearly half of women over 75 live by themselves. While we think of seniors as retirees, more older adults are working than in recent decades.
The aging Boomers
The biggest story, of course is the sheer number of aging Baby Boomers. In 2006, about 37 million Americans were 65 or older. By 2016, one of every seven Americans, or 49.2 million, had reached age 65. By 2060, that number will double: 98 million Americans will be at least 65.
At the same time, the number of those 85 and older (who are most likely to need personal assistance) will more double by 2040, from about 6.4 million in 2016 to 14.6 million. About 82,000 Americans were age 100 and older in 2016, and, according to some estimates, that number could increase ten-fold by mid-century.
But look more closely:
Think first about gender. Life expectancy for women at age 65 is 20.6 years, compared to 18 years for men, though the gap between the sexes is narrowing. Still, in 2016, there were 12.6 women 65 and older for every 10 men. The divide is even greater among the very old. For every man over 85, there are nearly two women.
Life for older women
But life for older women is not, on average, easy. Twice as many women over 65 live alone as men. And their incomes are far lower. The median income for older men is almost $32,000. For women, it is barely $18,000. Many rely largely on survivor’s benefits from their late husband’s Social Security or on modest retirement benefits of their own.
Next, think about racial and ethnic diversity. As with the rest of America, this is changing dramatically among older adults. In 2012, non-Hispanic whites made up 79 percent of those over 65. By 2050, their share will fall to only about 60 percent. By contrast, the percentage those over 65 who are Hispanic will grow from 7.3 percent to 18.4 percent by mid-century. Similarly, the share of Asians will double.
How about financial well-being? Here too, it is a story of great variation. One in ten seniors is living below the poverty line, while others will enjoy financial security. I recently wrote about those older adults who will die with more money than they had when they retired.
And when it comes to financial security, where you live matters. Much larger percentages of seniors live in poverty in in the District of Columbia and states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and New York compared to Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Hampshire.
Seniors rarely move
Where do older adults live? Not in nursing homes, for the most part. And not necessarily in Florida.
In 2016, only about 1.2 million—or about 3 percent– of those 65 and older lived in nursing homes. However, the share rises to about 9 percent for those 85+.
What are the nation’s “oldest” states? About 20 percent of Florida’s residents are 65 or older. But not far behind are: Maine, West Virginia, Vermont, and Montana. Which states are “aging” the fastest? Alaska, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona.
And, despite a common myth, older people don’t move very often. In 2016, only 4 percent moved at all, and only one-in-five of those who did so, left for another state or country.
All these data tell many important stories about older adults. And that is my take-away, at least from this report and others like it. There are as many different challenges of aging as there are older adults, and no one-size solution fits all, either for individual caregivers or for policymakers.