Older Americans 2010: Key indicators of Well-Being


Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being is one in a series of periodic reports to the
Nation on the condition of older adults in the United States. The indicators
assembled in this chartbook show the results of decades of progress. Older
Americans are living longer and enjoying greater prosperity than any previous
generation. Despite these advances, inequalities between the sexes and among
income groups and racial and ethnic groups continue to exist.As the baby
boomers continue to age and America’s older population grows larger and more
diverse, community leaders, policymakers, and researchers will have an even
greater need to monitor the health and economic well-being of older Americans.
In this report, 37 indicators depict the well-being of older Americans in the
areas of demographic characteristics, economic circumstances, overall health
status, health risks and behaviors, and cost and use of health care services.
Selected highlights from each section of the report follow.


demographics of aging continue to change dramatically. The older population is
growing rapidly, and the aging of the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
(and who begin turning age 65 in 2011), will accelerate this growth. This
larger population of older Americans will be more racially diverse and better
educated than previous generations. Another significant trend is the increase
in the proportion of men age 85 and over who are veterans.

  • In 2008, there were an
    estimated 39 million people age 65 and over in the United States,
    accounting for just over 13 percent of the total population. The older
    population in 2030 is expected to be twice as large as in 2000, growing
    from 35 million to 72 million and representing nearly 20 percent of the
    total U.S. population. (See “Indicator 1: Number of Older Americans.”)
  • In 1965, 24 percent of the
    older population had graduated from high school, and only 5 percent had at
    least a bachelor’s degree. By 2008, 77 percent were high school graduates
    or more, and 21 percent had a bachelor’s degree or more. (See “Indicator
    4: Educational Attainment.”)
  • The number of men age 85 and
    over who are veterans is projected to increase from 400,000 in 2000 to
    almost 1.2 million by 2010. The proportion of men age 85 and over who are
    veterans is projected to increase from 33 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in
    2010. (See “Indicator 6: Older Veterans.”)


older people are enjoying greater prosperity than any previous generation.
There has been an increase in the proportion of older people in the high-income
group and a decrease in the proportion of older people living in poverty, as
well as a decrease in the proportion of older people in the low-income group
just above the poverty line. Among older Americans, the share of aggregate
income coming from earnings has increased since the mid-1980s, partly because
more older people, especially women, continue to work past age 55. Finally, on
average, net worth has increased almost 80 percent for older Americans over the
past 20 years. Yet major inequalities continue to exist with older blacks and
people without high school diplomas reporting smaller economic gains and fewer
financial resources overall.

  • Between 1974 and 2007, there
    was a decrease in the proportion of older people with income below poverty
    from 15 percent to 10 percent and with low income from 35 percent to 26
    percent; and an increase in the proportion of people with high income from
    18 percent to 31 percent. (See “Indicator 8: Income.”)
  • In 2007, the median net worth
    of households headed by white people age 65 and over ($280,000) was six
    times that of older black households ($46,000). This difference is less
    than in 2003 when the median net worth of households headed by older white
    people was eight times higher than that of households headed by older
    black people. (See “Indicator 10: Net Worth.”) The large increase in net
    worth in past years may not continue into the future due to recent
    declines in housing values.
  • Labor force participation rates
    have risen among all women age 55 and over during the past four decades.
    As new cohorts of baby boom women approach older ages they are
    participating in the labor force at higher rates than previous
    generations. Labor force participation rates among men age 55 and over
    have gradually begun to increase after a steady decline from the early
    1960s to the mid-1990s. (See “Indicator 11: Participation in the Labor



Health Status

are living longer than ever before, yet their life expectancies lag behind
those of other developed nations. Older age is often accompanied by increased
risk of certain diseases and disorders. Large proportions of older Americans
report a variety of chronic health conditions such as hypertension and arthritis.
Despite these and other conditions, the rate of functional limitations among
older people has declined in recent years.

expectancy at age 65 in the United States is lower than that of many other
industrialized nations. In 2005, women age 65 in Japan could expect to live on
average 3.7 years longer than women in the United States. Among men, the
difference was 1.3 years. (See “Indicator 14: Life Expectancy.”)

prevalence of certain chronic conditions differs by sex. Women report higher
levels of arthritis (55 percent versus 42 percent) than men. Men report higher
levels of heart disease (38 percent versus 27 percent) and cancer (24 percent
versus 21 percent). (See “Indicator 16: Chronic Health Conditions.”)

1992 and 2007, the age-adjusted proportion of people age 65 and over with a
functional limitation declined from 49 percent to 42 percent. (See “Indicator
20: Functional Limitations.”)

Health Risks and Behaviors

and lifestyle factors can affect the health and well-being of older Americans.
These factors include preventive behaviors such as cancer screenings and
vaccinations along with diet, physical activity, obesity, and cigarette
smoking. Health and well-being are also affected by the quality of the air
where people live and by the time they spend socializing and communicating with
others. Many of these health risks and behaviors have shown long-term
improvements, even though recent estimates indicate no significant changes.

  • There was no significant change
    in the percentage of people age 65 and over reporting physical activity
    between 1997 and 2008. (See “Indicator 24: Physical Activity.”)
  • As with other age groups, the
    percentage of people age 65 and over who are obese has increased since
    1988–1994. In 2007–2008, 32 percent of people age 65 and over were obese,
    compared with 22 percent in 1988–1994. However, over the past several
    years, the trend has leveled off, with no statistically significant change
    in obesity for older men or women between 1999–2000 and 2007–2008. (See
    “Indicator 25: Obesity.”)
  • The percentage of people age 65
    and over living in counties that experienced poor air quality for any air
    pollutant decreased from 52 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2008. (See
    “Indicator 27: Air Quality.”)
  • The proportion of leisure time
    that older Americans spent socializing and communicating—such as visiting
    friends or attending or hosting social events—declined with age. For
    Americans age 55–64, 13 percent of leisure time was spent socializing and
    communicating compared with 8 percent for those age 75 and over. (See
    “Indicator 28: Use of Time.”)

Health Care

health care costs have risen dramatically for older Americans. In addition,
between 1992 and 2006, the percentage of health care costs going to
prescription drugs almost doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent, with
prescription drugs accounting for a large percentage of out-of-pocket health
care spending. To help ease the burden of prescription drug costs, Medicare
Part D prescription drug costs, began in January 2006

  • After adjustment for inflation,
    health care costs increased significantly among older Americans from
    $9,224 in 1992 to $15,081 in 2006. (See “Indicator 30: Health Care
  • From 1977 to 2006, the
    percentage of household income that people age 65 and over allocated to
    out-of-pocket spending for health care services increased among those in
    the poor/near poor income category from 12 percent to 28 percent. (See
    “Indicator 33: Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenditures.”)
  • The number of Medicare
    beneficiaries enrolled in Part D prescription drug plans increased from
    18.2 million (51 percent of beneficiaries) in June 2006 to 22.2 million
    (57 percent of beneficiaries) in December 2009. In December 2009, 61
    percent of plan enrollees were in stand-alone plans and 39 percent were in
    Medicare Advantage plans. In addition, approximately 6.2 million
    beneficiaries were covered by the Retiree Drug Subsidy (See “Indicator 31:
    Prescription Drugs.”)