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Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being is one in a series of periodic reports to the Nation on the condition of older adults in the United States. The indicators assembled in this chartbook show the results of decades of progress. Older Americans are living longer and enjoying greater prosperity than any previous generation. Despite these advances, inequalities between the sexes and among income groups and racial and ethnic groups continue to exist.As the baby boomers continue to age and America’s older population grows larger and more diverse, community leaders, policymakers, and researchers will have an even greater need to monitor the health and economic well-being of older Americans. In this report, 37 indicators depict the well-being of older Americans in the areas of demographic characteristics, economic circumstances, overall health status, health risks and behaviors, and cost and use of health care services. Selected highlights from each section of the report follow.


The demographics of aging continue to change dramatically. The older population is growing rapidly, and the aging of the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 (and who begin turning age 65 in 2011), will accelerate this growth. This larger population of older Americans will be more racially diverse and better educated than previous generations. Another significant trend is the increase in the proportion of men age 85 and over who are veterans.

  • In 2008, there were an estimated 39 million people age 65 and over in the United States, accounting for just over 13 percent of the total population. The older population in 2030 is expected to be twice as large as in 2000, growing from 35 million to 72 million and representing nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population. (See “Indicator 1: Number of Older Americans.”)     
  • In 1965, 24 percent of the older population had graduated from high school, and only 5 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree. By 2008, 77 percent were high school graduates or more, and 21 percent had a bachelor’s degree or more. (See “Indicator 4: Educational Attainment.”)
  • The number of men age 85 and over who are veterans is projected to increase from 400,000 in 2000 to almost 1.2 million by 2010. The proportion of men age 85 and over who are veterans is projected to increase from 33 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2010. (See “Indicator 6: Older Veterans.”)


Most older people are enjoying greater prosperity than any previous generation. There has been an increase in the proportion of older people in the high-income group and a decrease in the proportion of older people living in poverty, as well as a decrease in the proportion of older people in the low-income group just above the poverty line. Among older Americans, the share of aggregate income coming from earnings has increased since the mid-1980s, partly because more older people, especially women, continue to work past age 55. Finally, on average, net worth has increased almost 80 percent for older Americans over the past 20 years. Yet major inequalities continue to exist with older blacks and people without high school diplomas reporting smaller economic gains and fewer financial resources overall.

  • Between 1974 and 2007, there was a decrease in the proportion of older people with income below poverty from 15 percent to 10 percent and with low income from 35 percent to 26 percent; and an increase in the proportion of people with high income from 18 percent to 31 percent. (See “Indicator 8: Income.”)
  • In 2007, the median net worth of households headed by white people age 65 and over ($280,000) was six times that of older black households ($46,000). This difference is less than in 2003 when the median net worth of households headed by older white people was eight times higher than that of households headed by older black people. (See “Indicator 10: Net Worth.”) The large increase in net worth in past years may not continue into the future due to recent declines in housing values.
  • Labor force participation rates have risen among all women age 55 and over during the past four decades. As new cohorts of baby boom women approach older ages they are participating in the labor force at higher rates than previous generations. Labor force participation rates among men age 55 and over have gradually begun to increase after a steady decline from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s. (See “Indicator 11: Participation in the Labor Force.”)

Health Status

Americans are living longer than ever before, yet their life expectancies lag behind those of other developed nations. Older age is often accompanied by increased risk of certain diseases and disorders. Large proportions of older Americans report a variety of chronic health conditions such as hypertension and arthritis. Despite these and other conditions, the rate of functional limitations among older people has declined in recent years.

Life expectancy at age 65 in the United States is lower than that of many other industrialized nations. In 2005, women age 65 in Japan could expect to live on average 3.7 years longer than women in the United States. Among men, the difference was 1.3 years. (See “Indicator 14: Life Expectancy.”)

The prevalence of certain chronic conditions differs by sex. Women report higher levels of arthritis (55 percent versus 42 percent) than men. Men report higher levels of heart disease (38 percent versus 27 percent) and cancer (24 percent versus 21 percent). (See “Indicator 16: Chronic Health Conditions.”)

Between 1992 and 2007, the age-adjusted proportion of people age 65 and over with a functional limitation declined from 49 percent to 42 percent. (See “Indicator 20: Functional Limitations.”)

Health Risks and Behaviors

Social and lifestyle factors can affect the health and well-being of older Americans. These factors include preventive behaviors such as cancer screenings and vaccinations along with diet, physical activity, obesity, and cigarette smoking. Health and well-being are also affected by the quality of the air where people live and by the time they spend socializing and communicating with others. Many of these health risks and behaviors have shown long-term improvements, even though recent estimates indicate no significant changes.

  • There was no significant change in the percentage of people age 65 and over reporting physical activity between 1997 and 2008. (See “Indicator 24: Physical Activity.”)
  • As with other age groups, the percentage of people age 65 and over who are obese has increased since 1988–1994. In 2007–2008, 32 percent of people age 65 and over were obese, compared with 22 percent in 1988–1994. However, over the past several years, the trend has leveled off, with no statistically significant change in obesity for older men or women between 1999–2000 and 2007–2008. (See “Indicator 25: Obesity.”)
  • The percentage of people age 65 and over living in counties that experienced poor air quality for any air pollutant decreased from 52 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2008. (See “Indicator 27: Air Quality.”)
  • The proportion of leisure time that older Americans spent socializing and communicating—such as visiting friends or attending or hosting social events—declined with age. For Americans age 55–64, 13 percent of leisure time was spent socializing and communicating compared with 8 percent for those age 75 and over. (See “Indicator 28: Use of Time.”)

Health Care

Overall, health care costs have risen dramatically for older Americans. In addition, between 1992 and 2006, the percentage of health care costs going to prescription drugs almost doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent, with prescription drugs accounting for a large percentage of out-of-pocket health care spending. To help ease the burden of prescription drug costs, Medicare Part D prescription drug costs, began in January 2006

  • After adjustment for inflation, health care costs increased significantly among older Americans from $9,224 in 1992 to $15,081 in 2006. (See “Indicator 30: Health Care Expenditures.”)
  • From 1977 to 2006, the percentage of household income that people age 65 and over allocated to out-of-pocket spending for health care services increased among those in the poor/near poor income category from 12 percent to 28 percent. (See “Indicator 33: Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenditures.”)
  • The number of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Part D prescription drug plans increased from 18.2 million (51 percent of beneficiaries) in June 2006 to 22.2 million (57 percent of beneficiaries) in December 2009. In December 2009, 61 percent of plan enrollees were in stand-alone plans and 39 percent were in Medicare Advantage plans. In addition, approximately 6.2 million beneficiaries were covered by the Retiree Drug Subsidy (See “Indicator 31: Prescription Drugs.”)

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Last Modified: 12/31/1600 7:00:00 PM