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About This Report

Older Americans 2004: Key Indicators of Well-Being (Older Americans 2004) is the second in a series of reports produced by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (Forum)that describe the overall status of the U.S. population age 65 and over. This report provides Federal statistics from over a dozen national data sources to monitor several important areas in the lives of older Americans -- population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, and health care.

The Forum has once again collaborated to update and expand the comprehensive set of indicators that first appeared in Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being (Older Americans 2000). This series of reports provides the Nation with a broad summary of national indicators of well-being for the U.S. population age 65 and over and monitors changes in these indicators over time. By following these data trends, more accessible information will be available to target efforts that can improve the lives of older Americans.

Older Americans 2004 has added several new indicators to provide a more complete picture of the health and well-being of older Americans: sensory impairments and oral health; obesity; cigarette smoking; air quality; prescription drugs; sources of health insurance; sources of payment for health care services; and residential services. In addition to these new indicators, this report has been expanded to highlight an important and rapidly growing group of older Americans -- older veterans.

The Forum hopes that this report will stimulate discussions by policymakers and the public, encourage exchanges between the data and policy communities, and foster improvements in Federal data collection on older Americans. By examining a broad range of indicators, researchers, policymakers, service providers, and the Federal Government can better understand the areas of well-being that are improving for older Americans and the areas of well-being that require more attention and effort.

Structure of the Report

Older Americans 2004 is designed to present data in a nontechnical, user-friendly format; it complements other more technical and comprehensive reports produced by the individual Forum agencies. The report includes 37 indicators that are grouped into five sections: Population, Economics, Health Status, Health Risks and Behaviors, and Health Care. A list of the indicators included in this report is located in the Table of Contents on page IX.

Each indicator includes:

  • An introductory paragraph that describes the relevance of the indicator to the wellbeing of the older population.
  • One or more charts that graphically display analyses of the data.
  • Bulleted highlights of salient findings from the data and other sources. The data used to develop the indicators and their accompanying bullets are presented in table format in Appendix A. Data source descriptions are provided in Appendix B. A glossary is supplied in Appendix C.

Selection Criteria for Indicators

Older Americans 2004 presents 37 key indicators that measure critical aspects of older people's lives. The Forum chose these indicators because they are:

  • Easy to understand by a wide range of audiences.
  • Based on reliable, nationwide data (sponsored, collected, or disseminated by the Federal Government).
  • Objectively based on substantial research that connects them to the well-being of older Americans.
  • Balanced so that no single area dominates the report.
  • Measured periodically (not necessarily annually) so that they can be updated as appropriate and show trends over time.
  • Representative of large segments of the aging population, rather than one particular group.

Considerations When Examining the Indicators

Older Americans 2004generally addresses the U.S. population age 65 and over. Mutually exclusive age groups (e.g., age 65-74, 7584, and 85 and over) are reported whenever possible.

Data availability and analytical relevance may affect the specific age groups that are included for an indicator. For example, because of small sample sizes in some surveys, statistically reliable data for the population age 85 and over often are not available. Conversely, data from the population younger than age 65 sometimes are included if they are relevant to the interpretation of the indicator. For example, in "Indicator 11: Participation in the Labor Force," a comparison with a younger population enhances the interpretation of the labor force trends among people age 65 and over.

Because the older population is becoming more diverse, analyses often are presented by sex, race and ethnic origin, income, and other characteristics.

Updated indicators in Older Americans 2004 are not always comparable to the original indicators in Older Americans 2000. The replication of certain indicators with updated data is sometimes difficult because of changes in data sources, definitions, questionnaires, and/or reporting categories. A comparability table is available on the Forum's Web site at http://www.agingstats.gov to help readers understand the changes that have taken place.

The reference population (the base population sampled at the time of data collection) for each indicator is clearly labeled under each chart and table and defined in the glossary. Whenever possible, the indicators include data on the U.S. resident population (i.e., people living in the community and people living in institutions). However, some indicators show data only for the civilian noninstitutionalized population. Because the older population residing in nursing homes (and other long-term care institutional settings) is excluded from samples based on the noninstitutionalized population, caution should be exercised when attempting to generalize the findings from these data sources to the entire population age 65 and over. This is especially true for the older age groups. For example in 2002, only 83 percent of the population age 85 and over was included in the civilian noninstitutionalized population as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Civilian noninstitutionalized population as a percentage of the total resident population by age: July 1, 2002

Survey Years

In the charts, tick marks along the x-axis indicate years for which data are available. The range of years presented in each chart varies because data availability is not uniform across the data sources. To standardize the time frames across the indicators, a timeline has been placed at the bottom of each indicator that reports data for more than one year.Sample of Survey Years graphic

Accuracy of the Estimates

Most data in this report are based on a sample of the population and are, therefore, subject to sampling error. Standard tests of statistical significance have been used to determine whether the differences between populations exist at generally accepted levels of confidence or whether they occurred by chance. Unless otherwise noted, only statistically class=SpellE>significant differences between estimates are discussed in the text. To indicate the reliability of the estimates, standard errors for selected estimates in the chartbook can be found on the Forum's Web site at http://www.agingstats.gov.

Finally, the data in some indicators may not sum to totals because of rounding.

Sources of Data

The data used to create the charts are provided in tables in the back of the report (Appendix A). The tables also contain data that are described in the bullets below each chart. The source of the data for each indicator is noted below the chart.

Descriptions of the data sources can be found in Appendix B. Additional information about these data sources is available on the Forum's Web site at http://www.agingstats.gov.

Occasionally, data from another publication are included to give a more complete explanation of the indicator. The citations for these sources are included in the References section (page 62). For those who wish to access the survey data used in this chartbook, contact information is given for each of the data sources in Appendix B.

Data Needs

Because Older Americans 2004 is a collaborative effort of many Federal agencies, a comprehensive array of data was available for inclusion in this report. However, even with all of the data available, there are still areas where scant data exist. Although the indicators that were chosen cover a broad range of components that affect well-being, there are other issues that the Forum would like to address in the future. These issues are identified in the Data Needs section (page 59). By identifying and highlighting these data needs, the Forum -- as well as other policymakers, researchers, and service providers -- will be better able to focus their future efforts.


The Forum's mission is to encourage cooperation and collaboration among Federal agencies to improve the quality and utility of data on the aging population. To accomplish this mission, the Forum provides agencies with a venue to discuss data issues and concerns that cut across agency boundaries, facilitates the development of new databases, improves mechanisms currently used to disseminate information on aging-related data, invites researchers to report on cutting-edge analyses of data, and encourages international collaboration.

The specific goals of the Forum are to improve both the quality and use of data on the aging population by:

  • Widening access to information on the aging population through periodic publications and other means.
  • Promoting communication among data producers, researchers, and public policymakers.
  • Coordinating the development and use of statistical databases among Federal agencies.
  • Identifying information gaps and data inconsistencies.
  • Investigating questions of data quality.
  • Encouraging cross-national research and data collection on the aging population.
  • Addressing concerns regarding collection, access, and dissemination of data.

Financial Support

The Forum members provide funds and valuable staff time to support the activities of the Forum.

More Information

If you would like more information about Older Americans 2004 or other Forum activities, contact:

Kristen Robinson, Ph.D.
Staff Director
Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics
3311 Toledo Road, Room 6227
Hyattsville, MD 20782
Phone: (301) 458-4460
Fax: (301) 458-4037
E-mail: kgr4@cdc.gov
Web site: http://www.agingstats.gov

Older Americans on the Internet

An expanded version of this report can be found at http://www.agingstats.gov.
The Web site version of the report contains:

  • Continuously updated data tables (as the data become available).
  • PowerPoint slides of the charts.
  • Excel spreadsheets of all the data tables (some with standard errors).
  • A   comparability table explaining the changes to the indicators that have takenplace between Older Americans 2000 and Older Americans 2004.
  • The Forum's Web site also provides:
    • Ongoing Federal data resources relevant to the study of the aging.
    • Past products of the Forum (including Older Americans 2000).
    • Agency contacts.
    • Subject area contact list for Federal statistics.
    • Information about the Forum.

Additional Online Resources

Administration on Aging

A Profile of Older Americans

Online Statistical Data on the Aging

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

AHRQ Data & Surveys

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bureau of Labor Statistics Data

U.S. Census Bureau

Statistical Abstract of the United States

Age Data

Local Employment Dynamics -- Aging and Pension Benefits

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Statistics and Data

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veteran Data & Information

Environmental Protection Agency

Aging Initiative

National Center for Health Statistics

Data Warehouse on Trends in Health and Aging

Longitudinal Studies of Aging

Health, United States

National Institute on Aging

NIA Centers on the Demography of Aging

National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, HHS

Office of Disability, Aging, and Long-Term Care Policy

Office of Management and Budget

FedStats (Gateway to Federal Statistics)

Social Security Administration

Social Security Administration Statistical Information

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