The elderly are healthier, wealthier, and better educated than in the past and the impact of the retirement of the baby boom generation on health care costs, while still substantial, may not be as large as once thought. I expect this report will renew calls to increase the Social Security retirement age:
Census Report Foresees No Crisis Over Aging Generation's Health, by Rick Lyman, NY Times: ...Released yesterday, the United States Census Bureau's 243-page report on the aging population ... showed that today's older Americans are markedly different from previous generations. They are more prosperous, better educated and healthier, and those differences will only accelerate as the first boomers hit retirement age in 2011. "Older Americans, when compared to older Americans even 20 years ago, are showing substantially less disability, and that benefit applies to men and to women," said Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging... "All of this speaks to an improved quality of life."
What this suggests, Dr. Hodes said, is that while many of these older Americans will eventually become disabled, it will happen later with more of the years beyond 65 free of disability — an increase in what scientists call health expectancy. And while, as baby boomers age, the growing ranks of the infirm will become a substantial drain on government ... health care resources, the total impact may not be as devastating as once feared, Dr. Hodes said. ...
The report was not all good news. ... the drop in poverty has not happened across all population groups. "There are subgroups among the old who still have fairly high levels of poverty, including older women, and especially those who live alone," said Victoria A. Velkoff, chief of the aging studies branch at the Census Bureau. ... poverty hit blacks and Hispanics, especially women, harder than whites. While 10 percent of older white women lived in poverty in 2003, 21.4 percent of older Hispanic women and 27.4 percent of older black women did.
Here's a summary of the findings taken from the press release:
- The U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double in size within the next 25 years... The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
- The health of older Americans is improving. Still, many are disabled and suffer from chronic conditions. The proportion with a disability fell significantly from 26.2 percent in 1982 to 19.7 percent in 1999. But 14 million people age 65 and older reported some level of disability in Census 2000, mostly linked to a high prevalence of chronic conditions such as heart disease or arthritis.
- 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)...
- Higher levels of education, which are linked to better health, higher income, more wealth and a higher standard of living in retirement, will continue to increase among people 65 and older...
- Changes in the American family have significant implications for future aging. Divorce, for example, is on the rise, and some researchers suggest that fewer children and more stepchildren may change the availability of family support in the future for people at older ages. ... In 2003, among people in their early 60s, 12.2 percent of men and 15.9 percent of women were divorced.
Update: New Economist also comments on the report.