Seniors make up a large and vital part of the United States population. As the senior population grows, senior issues stand to have an ever larger influence on the country’s economy, policy, and culture.
To help take stock of this crucial group of people in the United States, the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics released the Older Americans 2016 Report on Key Indicators of Well Being. The report collects key statistics about who people in the US over 65 are, what their lives are like, and how they live.
There’s a lot of information packed into the report, but for those who don’t have time to read the full 204 pages, here are some of the highlights.
The first section includes some basic demographic information. Some relevant statistics provided include:
- Senior women outnumber senior men, which becomes even more the case as seniors age. Women make up over 56% of the 65 and over population, and two-thirds of the population over 85.
- Like the rest of the country, the racial demographics of the senior population are on the cusp of a big change. While 78% of the population is now white, with African Americans at 9%, Asians at 4% and Hispanics at 8%; projections suggest that by 2060 only 55% of the senior population will be white, with 12% African American, 9% Asian, and 22% Hispanic.
- Most older men live with a spouse (70%), while only 45% of older women do.
- 36% of older women live alone.
Takeaways on Senior Population:
A lot of these statistics relate to other issues we’ve covered here at Senior Advisor. The fact that women live longer is no surprise to anyone following or covering senior issues and it explains why there are more women living alone without spouses. It’s also one factor behind the retirement gender gap and the growing movement for senior women to find roommates.
The changing racial demographics reflect those of the country as a whole and points to one of the key ways the United States is evolving.
A senior’s economic status plays a huge role in their ability to take care of themselves and cover the costs of care they need throughout their senior years. While most of the senior population is economically stable, the report highlights a segment of seniors that is lacking crucial financial resources.
- 10% of seniors live below the poverty line.
- Older women are more likely than older men to live in poverty,
- White senior men and women are both less likely than seniors of other races to live below the poverty line.
- 36% of seniors are in what the report considers the highest-income group, which is defined by their making 400% or more of the poverty threshold. Of the income categories included in the report, the high-income group has the largest proportion of seniors in it.
- Many seniors still work into their senior years. About 37% of men ages 65-69 and 16% of men 70 and over still participate in the labor force. By comparison, 45% of women ages 62-64 and 28% of women aged 65-69 participate in the labor force.
- Home costs and health care are two of the largest expenditures facing seniors. Housing makes up about a third of the costs seniors have to deal with, while health care makes up 17% of the expenditures for people over 75.
Takeaways on Senior Economics:
While the majority of seniors are currently reasonably comfortable when it comes to their finances, the number that struggle with poverty and high housing and health care costs is concerning. With the high costs of senior care only seeming to rise with every year, some seniors and their families will face considerable challenges getting the care they need without social services or charitable interventions.
Health Status, Risk, and Care
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report devoted a significant amount of its page count to healthcare concerns. It divided these into three sections: health status, health risk, and health care. Here are some of the main statistics they compiled in those sections:
- Life expectancies have increased across the board. On average, people who live to 65 can expect to live about 20 more years.
- Women have a slightly higher life expectancy than men.
- Hispanic seniors have the highest life expectancy of any demographic, living an average of 2-3 years longer than people of other races.
- The #1 cause of death amongst seniors is heart disease, followed closely by cancer. That remains true across all racial and gender demographics.
- In spite of common health issues, seniors feel pretty good about their health in general. 78% of people over 65 rated their health as good, very good, or excellent.
- 15% of women and 10% of men over 65 report symptoms of depression. Those percentages go up with age; with 14% of men over 85 and 19% of women aged 80-84 reporting symptoms.
- Nearly 22% of seniors over 65 have a disability. The most common disability reported is difficulty with mobility.
- 44% of people over 65 report having difficulties with at least some ADLs. Needing help with ADLs is one of the main reasons seniors move to assisted living or consider hiring in-home care.
- Only about 12% of people over 65 said they spend time exercising.
- As with other age groups in the US, the proportion of seniors with obesity is on the rise. About 35% of people over 65 are obese.
- Almost all forms of health care for seniors are on the rise. The number of hospital stays, skilled nursing stays, hospital visits, and home health care visits have all gone up.
- About 1.8 million seniors over 65 live in nursing homes.
- Nearly 5 million seniors receive care from a home health care agency.
Takeaways on Senior Health:
In spite of a higher life expectancy, a lot of seniors face significant health care issues. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health care agencies are all booming industries expected to grow at a rapid pace in coming years.
Seniors could bring down some of their health care risks by exercising more, especially as heart disease is the biggest risk they face. And the percentage of seniors struggling with depression can fight those symptoms with the help of therapy.
The last section of the report looked at what seniors’ day-to-day life looks like. Some of the key findings are:
- On average, seniors spend more than a quarter of their time on leisure activities. More than half of that time is spent watching TV.
- Seniors in the US spend more time reading than younger groups, devoting about 14% of their time to it, or roughly an hour a day.
- The amount of time seniors spend socializing tends to decline with age.
- About a third of seniors only drive in the daytime due to a health or physical problem. 19% don’t drive at all.
Takeaways on Senior Environment
While enjoying time spent reading and watching TV is definitely a nice perk of retirement, some of the other statistics in this section of the report are troubling. Not being able to drive likely contributes to the decrease in socializing seniors have as they age, which puts them at risk of losing access to a close community and experiencing the dangers of loneliness. As more alternative transportation options become available to seniors, hopefully that trend will start to change.
The landscape and possibilities for seniors in the US continue to change with each year. With longer life expectancies and a good proportion of seniors experiencing financial comfort, some factors are much improved for today’s seniors. But with higher rates of obesity and a greater need for health care, some factors are less hopeful. The report offers a good snapshot of where seniors stand today and what kind of challenges we should all be aware of in the years to come.