Spatial Mapping of an Aging Population


Our statistical analysis of U.S. Census data shows that there is no substantial clustering of the elderly around other elderly individuals outside of states that are traditional retirement destinations, such as Florida, Arizona, and California. Specifically, very few census tracts have large concentrations of individuals over the age of 65. We found a similar result when looking at census block groups, the smallest geographic unit for which the Census Bureau publishes data. The findings indicate that to the extent that any concentrations of elderly do occur, they do so at very small geographic scales and that the U.S. Census geographies might be too large to detect meaningful concentrations of elderly individuals.

Our review of the literature on aging revealed that no one has mapped the distribution of older people in the United States at small geographic scales, such as neighborhoods. We also determined that there is no existing methodology for such spatial mapping that would combine data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristic of the elderly with relevant environmental factors and data on the availability of services. Nonetheless, we found great prospective interest in such mapping, from both our business and government contacts. There was particular interest in further understanding characteristics of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), buildings and neighborhoods not specifically designed as retirement communities but where people have aged in place and created a cluster of old people. By some estimates, between 36% and 50% of people age 55 and older are currently living in buildings or neighborhoods that can be considered NORCs, hence the importance of understanding this phenomenon.

The project was funded with a seed grant from the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society. We completed our seed grant research in December 2014 and issued our final report in March 2015. The project team included Adele Hayutin and Jonathan Streeter from the Center and Yana Kucheva from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.

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