Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being (Older Americans 2008)
fourth 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. Once again, this report uses data from over a dozen national data sources
to construct broad indicators of well-being for the older population and to monitor
changes in these indicators over time. By following these data trends, more
accessible information will be available to target efforts to improve the lives
of older Americans.
While most of Older Americans 2008 remains the same as earlier editions, two new
indicators have been added and several existing indicators have been revised to
provide a more complete picture of the health and well-being of older Americans.
The two new indicators in this report are housing problems and use of time.
The revised indicators include total expenditures (formerly housing expenditures),
depressive symptoms, functional limitations (formerly disability), prescription
drugs, nursing home utilization, and personal assistance and equipment (formerly
caregiving and assistive device use). An indicator on memory impairment, which is
no longer available, is listed as a data need under “Mental Health.” In addition
to these new and revised indicators, this report has been expanded to include a
one-time special feature on two important issues facing many older Americans today—literacy
and health literacy.
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 2008 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 38 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 the following:
- An introductory paragraph that describes the relevance
of the indicator to the well-being 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 2008 presents 38 key indicators that measure critical aspects of
older people’s lives. The Forum chose these indicators because they meet the following
- 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 2008 generally addresses the U.S. population age 65 and over. Mutually
exclusive age groups (e.g., age 65–74, 75–84, and 85 and over) are reported whenever
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.
To standardize the age distribution of the 65 and over population across years,
some estimates have been age adjusted by multiplying age specific rates by age specific
weights. If an indicator has been age adjusted, it will be stated in the note
under the chart(s) as well as under the corresponding table(s) in Appendix A.
Because the older population is becoming more diverse, analyses often are presented
by sex, race and Hispanic origin, income, and other characteristics.
Updated indicators in Older Americans 2008 are not always comparable to indicators
in Older Americans 2000, 2004, or Update 2006. 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 website at 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 2007, only 86 percent of the population
age 85 and over was included in the civilian noninstitutionalized population as
deﬁned by the U.S. Census Bureau.
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.
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 differences that are statistically significant at the 0.05 level 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 website at 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 website at 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 69). For those who wish to access the survey data used
in this chartbook, contact information is given for each of the data sources in
Because Older Americans 2008 is a collabor-ative 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 67).
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 develop-ment
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 policy- makers.
- 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.
The Forum members provide funds and valuable staff time to support the activities
of the Forum.
If you would like more information about Older Americans 2008 or other Forum activities,
Kristen Robinson, Ph.D.
Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics
3311 Toledo Road, Room 6321
Hyattsville, MD 20782
Phone: (301) 458–4460
Fax: (301) 458–4038
Older Americans on the Internet
Supporting material for this report can be found at www.agingstats.gov. The website
contains the following:
- Data for all of the indicators in Excel spreadsheets
(with standard errors, when available).
- Data source descriptions.
- PowerPoint slides of the charts.
- A comparability table explaining the changes to the
indicators that have taken place between Older Americans 2000, 2004, Update 2006,
The Forum’s website also provides:
- Ongoing Federal data resources relevant to the study
of the aging.
- Links to aging-related statistical information on
Forum member websites.
- Other Forum publications (including Data Sources on
Older Americans 2006).
- Workshop presentations, papers, and reports.
- Agency contacts.
- Subject area contact list for Federal statistics.
- Information about the Forum.
Additional Online Resources