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The State of the Nation's Older Citizens

By Elaine Cassel

On August 10, 2000, The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics released its report on the state of the nation's older population. Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being covers 31 key indicators selected by the Forum to portray aspects of the lives of older Americans and their families. The report is divided into five subject areas: population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, and health care.

The report indicates that well-being has improved for most older people, but some segments of the population are worse off. Here are some of the highlights of the report:
  • The number and proportion of older people in the U.S population have increased ten-fold since 1990 will continue to grow at a very rapid pace. Aging in the twenty-first century will be characterized by a steep rise in the population age 65 and older, with the highest increase in the 85 and older category. Older Americans will reflect increased racial and ethnic diversity. In 2000, an estimated 84 percent of the population age 65 and older is non-Hispanic white, 8 percent non-Hispanic black, 6 percent Hispanic, and the rest other. By 2050, those proportions are projected to be substantially different: 64 percent of the older population is expected to be non-Hispanic white, 16 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent non-Hispanic black.
  • Todayís older Americans are better educated than their counterparts 50 years ago, a factor that can positively influence socioeconomic status and health. In 1998, a high school diploma was held by some 67 percent of older Americans, compared with just 18 percent in 1950. About 15 percent of older Americans had earned at least a bachelorís degree in 1998, increasing from 4 percent in 1950.
  • The economic picture for most older Americans is improving. But there are also significant disparities in income and wealth. Poverty has dropped dramatically, but rates are still very high for some groups. Social Security benefits and pensions have taken on greater importance. Overall, the net worth of older Americans also has increased over time. The poverty rate is highest at older ages: 14 percent for people age 85 and older, compared with 9 percent for people ages 65 through 74. It is higher among older women (13 percent) than older men (7 percent). And it is higher for minorities than non-Hispanic whites; for example, divorced black women ages 65 through 74 had a poverty rate of 47 percent in 1998, among the highest for any subset of older people.
  • Older Americans are living longer and feeling better. An overwhelming majority rate their health as good or excellent. Men and women report comparable levels of well-being. Disability rates are declining as well. But large numbers of older people find their health threatened by memory impairments, depression, chronic conditions, and disability, especially at very advanced ages, which can substantially diminish quality of life. Americans born at the beginning of the twenty-first century are expected to live almost 30 years longer than those born at the turn of the 20th century. In 1997, a newborn baby girl could expect to live 79 years and a boy 74 years, compared to 51 years for a girl and 48 years for a boy born in 1900. Life expectancy varies by race, however. The average life expectancy for a white baby born in 1997 was 6 years higher than for a black baby born in the same year.
Read a detailed summary of the report at:

Access the full report online at: .

For information about aging and government research initiatives concerning the physical, mental, emotional, and social health of America's aging population, go to the site of The National Institute on Aging, one of the National Institutes of Health:

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