US map of increasing older adult population
(Image credit: US Census Bureau, Population Estimates)

The older adult population in the United States isn’t just growing — quadrupling since 1900 — but it also is becoming increasingly older, according to an annual summary of related statistics.

The Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living’s annual Profile of Older Americans reveals that the percentage of older adults quadrupled from 1900 (4.1%) to 2020 (17%), with the number of seniors increasing more than 17 times, from 3.1 million to 55.7 million.

The ACL used data from the US Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics and the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a snapshot of the nation’s older adult population. The data provide insights into the potential senior living population.

In 2020, the 65-to-74 age group (32.5 million) was more than 14 times larger than in 1900 (when it was 2.2 million); the 75-to-84 age group (16.5 million) was 21 times larger (771,369); and the 85-and-older group (6.7 million) was more than 54 times larger (122,362). 

Graph showing growing aging population
(Image courtesy of US Census Bureau)

The older population is expected to continue growing significantly, with 46% of the Baby Boom generation now aged 65 or more years (baby boomers range in age from 57 to 76). 

The population of those aged 65 or more years increased by 38% from 2010 to 2020, going from 40.5 million to 55.7 million during that time, and it is projected to reach 94.7 million by 2060.

By 2040, there will be 80.8 million older adults, more than twice as many as in 2000.

The 85-and-older population is projected to more than double from 2020 to 2040, going from 6.7 million to 14.4 million in 2040 during that time, a 117% increase.

And although the older population is growing, life expectancy has dropped, according to the ACL. Life expectancy at birth decreased by 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, going from 78.8 years to 77 years, largely due to the mortality increases from COVID-19, unintentional injuries, heart disease, homicide and diabetes.

Aging population diversifying

As it grows, the population of older adults also is becoming more diverse, the data show. Racial and ethnic minority populations increased from 8.1 million in 2010 (20% of the older adult population) to 13.5 million in 2020 (24%) and are projected to increase to 27.7 million (34%) in 2040.

Between 2020 and 2040, the white non-Hispanic older adult population in the United States is projected to increase by 26% compared with 105% for older racial and ethnic minority populations; Hispanic populations will increase by 148%, Blacks by 73%, Native Americans and Alaska Natives by 58%, and Asians by 93%.

Geographic distribution varies by state

The proportion of older adults varies considerably by state, the ACL said. In 2020, 51% of Americans aged 65 or more years lived in a combined nine states. 

Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin each had more than 1 million older adults living in their states in 2020.

The four states with the highest percentage of older adults in 2020 were Maine (22%), and Florida, West Virginia and Vermont, each of which had 21% of their populations aged 65 or more years.

In nine states, the 65-and-older population increased by more than 50% between 2010 and 2020: Alaska (73%), Nevada (59%), Colorado (58%), Idaho (56%), Arizona (55%), South Carolina (53%), Utah and Delaware (both 52%) and Georgia (51%).

Older adults living with multiple chronic diseases

In 2020, 20% of those aged 65 to 74 labeled their health as fair or poor compared with 27% of those aged 75 or more years. The leading chronic conditions among older adults in 2020 were arthritis (47%), cancer (26%), diabetes (21%) and coronary heart disease (14%). 

In 2020, 18% of adults aged 65 and older reported the inability to function or difficulty in at least one of six functional domains. Specifically, 21% had trouble seeing (even if wearing glasses), 29% had difficulty hearing (even with hearing aids), 39% had trouble with mobility and 28% reported trouble with cognition.

The report also provides information on family caregivers, health insurance coverage, education, employment, housing, income, marital status and living arrangements.

A relatively small number of people (1.2 million) aged 65 or more years lived in nursing homes in 2019. The percentage, however, increased with age, ranging from 1% for people aged 65 to 74 and 2% for people aged 75 to 84, to 8% for persons aged more than 85 years.