U.S. Older Population Larger Than Ever, According to the 2010 Census

Since the last census conducted in 2000, the number of Americans over the age of 65 has risen from 35.0 million to 40.3 million in the 2010 Census, an increase of 5.3 million in ten years, according to a 2010 Census brief released last week titled The Older Population: 2010.  This is the largest older American population than has ever been reported by census figures.

While the total United States population increased by a moderate 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, the older population grew by a significantly larger 15.1 percent.  In 2000, people 65 years plus amounted to 12.4 percent of the total population, but in 2010 that percentage was up to 13.0 percent.  Within the older population, 53.9 percent is made up of people aged 65 to 74 years, 32.4 percent are between 75 and 84 years, 12.6 percent are 85 to 94 years old, and the remaining 1.1 percent, numbering 425,000 people, are over age 95.  Even the centenarian population, those at or above 100 years of age, increased by 5.8 percent, up to 53,364 people as of April 1, 2010.  Furthermore, though older females still outnumber older males in the United States, it is by a smaller proportion than before, as the growth rate of the male population in all but the 65 to 69 year age range surpassed that of its female counterpart. 

This trend will most probably continue as the Baby Boom generation nears the 65 plus age range. Current census figures show the population aged 46 to 64 years of age, the range in which the Baby Boomers fall, grew at a rate of 31.5 percent between the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census, according to the 2010 Census Brief entitled Age and Sex Composition: 2010, issued in May.

One reason the Census Bureau collects data is to appropriately allocate federal program funding, including those areas that are most important to the older population such as planning for senior housing, hospitals, and assisted living and skilled nursing homes.  On that note, just over three percent of the total 65 plus population lived in skilled nursing facilities in 2010, about 1.3 million people.  As that age group progressed in age, greater percentages of people ended up in a nursing home.  Under one percent of the older population between 65 and 74 years of age were in a nursing home in 2010, but 24.7 percent of those 95 plus, and 32.3 percent of centarians, resided in a nursing home.  Furthermore, census figures related to the age of the elderly population are particularly important when it comes to forecasting the number of people that will become eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits in the coming years.

The United States will most likely experience further dramatic growth in the elderly population as the Baby Boom generation progresses past the 65 year mark, and if the trends evident from the 2010 Census figures are to continue, this will place an additional strain on the already cash-strapped Medicare and Social Security systems to provide benefits to the increasing elderly population.  This raises some interesting questions, and ones that are not easily answered considering the highly politicized health care spending debate of recent years.  One thing is sure, additional demands will be made on skilled nursing facilities, senior housing, including assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, and all industries that support the elderly population.  Also, with more men surviving into old age, there is a possibility that medical services specific to the male population will be in higher demand.  It is yet to be seen whether the current Medicare and Social Security systems are equipped to handle the impending influx of elderly beneficiaries. 

Additional figures, including state-specific data, from the 2010 Census are available on the U.S. Census Bureau website.