The New Face of Aging

The senior population is changing rapidly and drastically in the United States, affecting housing and other sectors of the economy.

March 1, 2006

The face of aging in the United States is changing dramatically; today’s older Americans live longer, have lower rates of disability, achieve higher levels of education, and less often live in poverty, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

The report, “65+ in the United States,” was commissioned by National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The social and economic implications of an aging population, and of the baby boom in particular, are likely to be profound for both individuals and society,” says Louis Kincannon, director of the Census Bureau.

The report aims to provide a picture of the health and socioeconomic status of the aging population at a critical time in the maturing of the United States. It looks at a slew of important factors — such as finances, health, and family structure — that play big roles in housing decisions.

Trends That Affect Housing

By learning about how our senior population is changing, you can do a better job of working with this niche and providing service that meets the needs of people 65 and older.

These are some of the main trends that the study identified:

  • The senior population is growing fast. The first baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011. And by 2030, people age 65 and older are projected to represent 20 percent of the total U.S. population, compared with 12 percent in 2003. The age group of people 85 and older is now the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.
  • Seniors have fewer disabilities. The health of older Americans is improving. The proportion of seniors with a disability fell significantly from 26.2 percent in 1982 to 19.7 percent in 1999. Still, many are disabled and suffer from chronic conditions. Fourteen million people age 65 and older reported some level of disability in the Census 2000, with most disabilities linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease or arthritis.
  • Finances are in good shape. The financial circumstances of older people have improved dramatically, although there are wide variations in income and wealth. The proportion of people aged 65 and older in poverty decreased from 35 percent in 1959 to 10 percent in 2003, mostly attributed to the support of Social Security. In 2000, the poorest fifth of senior households had a net worth of $3,500 ($44,346 including home equity) and the wealthiest had $328,432 ($449,800 including home equity).
  • Seniors are concentrated in certain states. In 2000, nine states — California, Florida, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey — had more than 1 million residents aged 65 and over. Florida, with 17.6 percent of its population made up of seniors, is the “oldest” state, followed by Pennsylvania (15.6 percent) and West Virginia (15.3 percent).
  • Older population is diverse. As the United States as a whole grows more diverse, so does the population of people age 65 and older. In 2003, older Americans were 83 percent non-Hispanic white, 8 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian. By 2030, an estimated 72 percent of older Americans will be non-Hispanic white, 11 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black, and 5 percent Asian.
  • Seniors are better educated. There is a strong correlation between education and health. Older adults are increasingly more educated, and this continuing trend could have a positive effect on the health of older people in the future. By 2030, more than one-fourth of the older population is expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and the percentage of older women with a bachelor’s degree will likely double, from 13.4 percent in 2003 to 27.8 percent in 2030.
  • Family structure is changing. Changes in the American family have significant implications for future aging. Divorce is on the rise and some researchers suggest that fewer children and more stepchildren may change the availability of family support in the future. In 1960, only 1.6 percent of older men and 1.5 percent of women age 65 and older were divorced; but 7 percent of older men and 8.6 percent of older women were divorced and had not remarried by 2003. The trend may be continuing. In 2003, among people in their early 60s, 12.2 percent of men and 15.9 percent of women were divorced.

Are Your ‘Aging’ Ideas Out of Date?

If you work with older clients, it’s important to keep in mind that older people today are different than seniors of the past.

“Many people have an image of aging that may be 20 years out of date,” says Richard M. Suzman, director of the National Institute on Aging’s Behavioral and Social Research Program. “The very current portrait presented here shows how much has changed and where trends may be headed in the future.”

The report shows many implications for real estate. Seeing the huge growth in the senior population, builders would be smart to incorporate Universal Design features to eliminate difficulties in such ordinary tasks as turning off light switches and grabbing a bar to get up out of the bath.

With a higher divorce rate and lower remarriage rate for older females — resulting in an estimated three men for every 10 single females, according to the Census — new types of housing could emerge that provide a variation on community living for older single, divorced or widowed females.

It remains to be seen exactly how boomers will affect the housing market, given that they’re still at least five years away from hitting their 65th birthdays. This group is already notable in housing for their wealth and ability to buy second homes, which is driving the vacation home marketplace to new heights every year. How will their needs change for their primary homes? Will they move to low-maintenance condos near work centers or age in place in ranch-style ramblers?

One thing is clear: aging boomers will dictate changes in society and the economy, and the real estate market will be no exception.

The full report, “65+ in the United States,” is available on the Census Bureau Web site in PDF format.

(c) Copyright 2006 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.