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A Profile of Older Americans: 2012

The Older Population

The older population--persons 65 years or older—numbered 41.4 million in 2011 (the most recent year for which data are available). They represented 13.3% of the U.S. population, over one in every eight Americans. The number of older Americans increased by 6.3 million or 18% since 2000, compared to an increase of 9.4% for the under-65 population. However, the number of Americans aged 45-64 – who will reach 65 over the next two decades – increased by 33% during this period.

In 2011, there were 23.4 million older women and 17.9 million older men, or a sex ratio of 131 women for every 100 men. At age 85 and over, this ratio increases to 203 women for every 100 men.

Since 1900, the percentage of Americans 65+ has more than tripled (from 4.1% in 1900 to 13.3% in 2011), and the number has increased over thirteen times (from 3.1 million to 41.4 million). The older population itself is increasingly older. In 2011, the 65-74 age group (21.4 million) was almost 10 times larger than in 1900; the 75-84 group (12.8 million) was 16 times larger and the 85+ group (5 million) was 40 times larger.

In 2011, persons reaching age 65 had an average life expectancy of an additional 19.2 years (20.4 years for females and 17.8 years for males). A child born in 2011 could expect to live 78.7 years, about 30 years longer than a child born in 1900. Much of this increase occurred because of reduced death rates for children and young adults. However, the period of 1990-2007 also has seen reduced death rates for the population aged 65-84, especially for men – by 41.6% for men aged 65-74 and by 29.5% for men aged 75-84. Life expectancy at age 65 increased by only 2.5 years between 1900 and 1960, but has increased by 4.2 years from 1960 to 2007. Nonetheless, some research has raised concerns about future increases in life expectancy in the US compared to other high-income countries, primarily due to past smoking and current obesity levels, especially for women age 50 and over.

About 3 million persons celebrated their 65th birthday in 2011. In the same year, approximately 1.8 million persons 65 or older died. Census estimates showed an annual net increase between 2010 and 2011 of 916,837 in the number of persons 65 and over.

Between 1980 and 2010, the centenarian population experienced a larger percentage increase than did the total population. There were 53,364 persons aged 100 or more in 2010 (0.13% of the total 65+ population). This is a 66% increase from the 1980 figure of 32,194.

(Based on online data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1) Population Estimates and Projections; 2) 2010 Census Special Reports, Centenarians: 2010, C2010SR-03, 2012; and 3) Table 5. Population by Age and Sex for the United States: 1900 to 2000, Part A. Hobbs, Frank and Nicole Stoops, Census 2000 Special Reports, Series CENSR-4, Demographic Trends in the 20th Century. The National Center for Health Statistics’ Hoyert DL, Xu JQ. Deaths: Preliminary data for 2011. National vital statistics reports; vol 61 no 6. Hyattsville, MD: 2012. The National Research Council’s Crimmins EM, Preston SH, Cohen B, editors. Explaining Divergent Levels of Longevity in High-Income Countries. Panel on Understanding Divergent Trends in Longevity in High-Income Countries, 2011.)

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