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Older Americans 2016: Key Indicators of Well-Being

Two older women and a man sit around a small table drinking coffee.The Americans 2016 report covers 41 indicators that span six key areas, including population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, health care, and environment, to examine the well-being and condition of the U.S. population age 65 and over.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics released their Older Americans 2016: Key Indicators of Well-Being report on August 2, 2016. This publication is the seventh in an ongoing series of reports that examine the well-being and condition of the U.S. population age 65 and over. By providing access to high-quality data across a range of indicators, this report is a valuable resource for informing efforts to monitor and respond to the changing needs of older Americans.

The Older Americans 2016 report covers 41 indicators that span six key areas: population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, health care, and environment. This year’s report also includes a special feature on informal caregiving as well as new indicators for dementia, social security beneficiaries, long-term care providers, and transportation. In addition to identifying broad patterns in each of these areas, the report analyzes several indicator trends by sex, race and ethnicity, income, educational attainment, and age group.

Reliable national statistics that provide a comprehensive portrait of the aging population play an important role in clarifying policy needs, particularly as older Americans make up an increasing proportion of the country’s total population. Although 46 million people age 65 and over lived in the United States in 2014, accounting for 15 percent of the total population, this number is expected to grow to 74 million people, representing 21 percent of the total U.S. population, by 2030. Similarly, the population age 85 and over is expected to grow from 6 million in 2014 to 20 million by 2060. As it grows, the older American population is also expected to become more racially and ethnically diverse.

Several indicators from the Older Americans 2016 report provide insight into housing challenges and opportunities for older Americans. Most directly, the report includes HUD’s Housing Problems indicator with information about housing cost burden, physically inadequate housing, and crowded housing for older American households. Approximately 39 percent of all households with a member age 65 and over faced one or more housing problems in 2013. The most prevalent housing problem for older Americans was housing cost burden, defined as expenditures on housing and utilities that exceed 30 percent of household income. The percentage of older American households facing a housing cost burden has generally trended upward over time; 30 percent of all older households were cost burdened in 1985, which increased to 40 percent in 2011 before declining to 36 percent in 2013. In comparison, 34 percent of households without a member age 65 and over were cost burdened in 2013. Crowded housing was also a relatively prevalent housing problem for older-member intergenerational households, with 14 percent of these households having more than one person per room in 2013.

The Older Americans 2016 report includes several additional indicators with housing-relevant information about older Americans’ economic situations, residential living arrangements and services, and environmental and lifestyle trends. Select findings in these areas are described below.

Economic Situations

  • Poverty. The proportion of the older American population living below the poverty threshold has decreased dramatically over recent decades, falling from 29 percent of people age 65 and over in 1966 to 10 percent in 2014.
  • Net Worth. The median net worth of households headed by older Americans (as measured in 2013 dollars) grew from $116,500 in 1983 to $210,500 in 2013. However, important racial inequalities in net worth persist; in 2013, the median net worth of households headed by older white people was about four and a half times that of households headed by older black people. Net worth also differed by marital status and educational attainment.
  • Expenditures. Housing costs made up the largest share of total expenditures for older households in 2014, accounting for approximately one third of annual expenditures. Health care also accounted for a substantial portion of annual expenditures, particularly among older age groups and lower-income populations. For households with a reference person age 75 and over, health care costs made up 16 percent of total household expenditures in 2014. For poor or near-poor people age 65 and over, out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures constituted 17 percent of per capita household income in 2013, having increased from 12 percent in 1977.

Residential Living Arrangements and Services

  • Living Arrangements. Living arrangements of the over-65 population in 2015 differed by sex, with older men more likely than older women to live with their spouse (70 percent versus 45 percent) and older women more likely than older men to live alone (36 percent versus 20 percent). Living arrangements also varied by race and ethnicity.
  • Residential Services. Most older Americans live independently in traditional communities. In 2013, 93 percent of the Medicare population age 65 and over resided in traditional communities, whereas 3 percent resided in community housing with at least one service available and 4 percent resided in long-term care facilities. The percentage of people residing in community housing with services and long-term care facilities increased with age, with 8 percent of individuals age 85 and over living in community housing with services and 15 percent residing in long-term care facilities.
  • Long-Term Care Providers. About 1.2 million people age 65 and over were residents of nursing homes in 2014. In the same year, nearly 780,000 people age 65 and over lived in residential care communities such as assisted living facilities, and approximately 180,000 people age 65 and over received care in adult day services centers. In 2013, more than 4 million people age 65 and over received care from a home health agency, and nearly 1.3 million people age 65 and over received hospice care.
  • Informal Care. In 2011, approximately 18 million informal caregivers, defined as family members or friends providing assistance without pay, provided 1.3 billion hours of care on a monthly basis to Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and over who had a chronic disability. Although these informal caregivers represented a diverse population, more caregivers were women (11.1 million) than men (6.9 million).

Environmental and Lifestyle Trends

  • Air Quality. The percentage of older Americans living in counties that experienced poor air quality decreased from 66 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2014. Even in 2014, however, nearly 7 million people age 65 and over lived in counties where monitored air quality was unhealthy at times.
  • Life Expectancy. Life expectancies have increased over time, such that Americans are living longer than ever before. However, differences in life expectancy by socioeconomic status also have been increasing over time. Life expectancy also varies by race, ethnicity, and sex.
  • Health Status. Many older Americans face functional limitations. In 2014, 22 percent of people age 65 and over reported having at least one limitation in vision, hearing, mobility, communication, cognition, or self-care, and in 2013, 44 percent of Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and over faced limitations in performing at least one activity of daily living or instrumental activity of daily living.
  • Transportation. In 2013, 33 percent of the noninstitutionalized Medicare population age 65 and over had limited their driving to daytime hours because of a health or physical problem, 19 percent had given up driving altogether, 25 percent had trouble getting places, and 34 percent had reduced travel because of a health or physical problem.

The Older Americans 2016 report resulted from collaborative efforts across federal agencies to improve the quality of, and access to, data on the country’s aging population. The report drew on more than two dozen national data sources and involved participation from 16 member agencies, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HUD, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Additional information about the Older Americans 2016 report, including full reports from 2016 and prior years, is available at https://agingstats.gov/ .