New Realities of an Older America

Stanford Center on Longevity research spotlights trends, challenges and implications of population aging

The challenges of baby boomers reaching old age, combined with a growing, more diverse population, will drive major changes, challenges and decisions in U.S. families, workplaces and communities, according to NEW REALITIES of an OLDER AMERICA: Challenges, Changes and Questions, a new report from the Stanford Center on Longevity.

The implications concern the entire society – young and old alike. Even though many of these changes could have been anticipated, the United States has continued to rely on social and economic policies and practices that were designed for a more youthful population. NEW REALITIES of an OLDER AMERICA frames the critical issues and underscores the urgency of effectively addressing the anticipated challenges with relevant public policies.

The shift toward an older population has enormous economic, social and political implications for Americans of all ages. Key findings include:

• As people live longer and healthier lives, our culture must create new opportunities for individual and societal contributions across all ages.

• The number of older people (age 65 and over) will double over the next 30 years, from 40 million to 80 million, and the percentage of older people in the population will increase from 13% to 20%.

• By 2032, there will be more people 65 or older than children under 15.

• By the time the youngest baby boomers turn 65 in 2029, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. The percentage of 85-year-olds will grow even faster.

• If retirement is not delayed there will be fewer and fewer potential workers per retiree. Longer working lives, in contrast, would make use of the most educated older population in the history of the country.

• Without policy and behavioral changes, the fiscal burden on individual workers and taxpayers will skyrocket.

• Unless people work longer, the personal financial burden also will increase as people reach older ages.

• Population aging will affect younger Americans as well. Their economic prospects and future tax burdens depend on how effectively today’s policy makers prepare.

• Suburbs, designed for traditional nuclear families, increasingly will be home to singles and older couples.

• Diversity will increase among older people, with minorities accounting for 60% of the growth among those 65 or older.

“These unprecedented demographic developments require urgent action. A deep understanding of the issues is required in order for societies to deal effectively with new realities,” said Laura L. Carstensen PhD, director of the Center on Longevity. “In less than one century, life expectancy increased by an average of 30 years in developed regions of the world. NEW REALITIES of an OLDER AMERICA shows how this added longevity signifies both a remarkable achievement and a great challenge.”

NEW REALITIES provides an overview, a framework for thinking about each trend, and comparative perspectives on changes over time and across age groups. This comparative perspective raises many questions about how these changes might unfold in unexpected ways.

“Soon, our nation will have more old people than children,” said Adele M. Hayutin PhD, senior research scholar and director of the Center’s Global Aging Program, which developed the report. “Our economic prospects depend, in large measure, on how well our leaders – in government, business and communities across the nation – incorporate these tremendous population shifts into their policies and business plans.”

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