The number of older people and their share of the U.S. population is greater now than at any other time, according to the results of the 2010 census. The senior population—persons 65 and older—is also growing faster than the total population.
These findings from the 2010 census were released Wednesday at a news release from the U.S. Census Bureau. Population numbers were based on where the people resided on April 1, 2010.
In the decade between the 2000 and 2010 census, seniors increased from 35 million to 40.3 million, a 15.1 percent increase. In contrast, the overall U.S. population added 27.3 million in the decade to a total of 309 million—a 9.7 percent increase.
The majority of the growth in seniors came from the 65–69 years group, which grew the fastest at 30.4 percent.
“This age group represents the leading edge of the baby boom and is expected to grow more rapidly over the next decade, as the first baby boomers start turning 65 in 2011,” says the census brief. The baby boom is defined as persons born after World War II, from mid-1946 to 1964.
The only age group among the older population that did not grow but declined 1.3 percent during the decade was the 75–79 years. These persons were born in the early 1930s when the country experienced the Great Depression, and the birth rate was low.
In addition to their numbers growing, seniors take up a larger proportion of the total population, from 12.4 percent in 2000 to 13.0 percent in 2010. In 1900, seniors comprised only 4.1 percent of the total population. Their proportion has been steadily increasing every census, with the exception of the period 1990-2000.
These statistics and other age-derived data are important because they may be used in the allocation of funds for federal programs. Age trends can help forecast the number of people eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The census brief said that the Department of Veteran Affairs, Health and Human Services, and the Equal Opportunity Commission may need age data for planning programs, allocating funding, or enforcing federal mandates.
The private sector can use the age data for determining business locations and advertising services targeting older adults.
Gender Gap Narrowing
Historically, women have longer life expectancy and lower mortality rates at older ages, but the gap is narrowing, says the census brief. One way to summarize this trend is by computing the sex ratio measure.
The sex ratio is defined as the number of males per 100 females. The sex ratio at birth in most populations is around 105 males to every 100 females. The ratio typically declines as age increases, with males suffering higher mortality rates than females. In the United States, females outnumbered males in the senior population in the last three censuses.
The 2010 census data indicates a trend of sex ratios increasing for men as mortality rates decline, allowing more males to enter into the older population. For example, considering persons 65 years of age, the 2010 census shows there were 90.5 males per 100 females, an increase from 2000 and 1990 when the sex ratios were lower, at 88.1 and 82.7, respectively.
For persons in the 85-year-old group, the sex ratios show the same pattern of increasing: for the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses, the sex ratios were 45.6, 50.5, and 58.3, respectively.
The only exception to the trend of higher growth rates for men between the 2000 and 2010 censuses is the age grouping of 100 and over, where the number of women increased by 9.4 percent, while the number of men dropped by 8.9 percent.
So, while women outnumber men in the older ages, men are closing the gap at a faster rate than women.
The only state among the 50 states to decline in the number of seniors was Rhode Island. The District of Columbia also declined.
The oldest of the older population—people 85 years and older—comprise only 1.8 percent of the total population, or about 5.5 million. The growth of this group was phenomenal—29.6 percent. The states where this group increased the most, based on the percent change, were Alaska (79 percent), Nevada (78 percent), Hawaii (72 percent), and Arizona (51 percent).
Alaska led because new growth is divided by its tiny population of seniors. Alaska has the lowest number and percentage of the 85 and older population. In 2000, the count was only 2,634; by 2010, Alaska had added 2,077 more.
The number of centenarians (people 100 and older) reached 53,364, an increase of almost 5.8 percent since 2000.
The county with the highest proportion of seniors was Sumter County, Fla., at 43.4 percent.
Among cities of 100,000 or more, Scottsdale, Ariz., contains the highest share of seniors—20 percent.