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Key Indicators of Well-Being

Focus on Older Americans


Updated October 29, 2012

Key Indicators of Well-Being

Looking into the mirror to spot trends. How is your crystal ball?

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Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being is one in a series of periodic reports to the Nation on the condition of older adults in the United States. It is published by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.

Their latest trend report covers the areas of demographic characteristics, economic circumstances, health status, health risks and behaviors, and cost and use of health care services.


The demographics of aging continue to change dramatically. In 2010, there were 40 million people age 65 and over in the United States, accounting for 13 percent of the total population. The older population in 2030 is projected to be twice as large as in 2000, growing from 35 million to 72 million and representing nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population.


There have been decreases in the proportion of older people living in poverty or in the low-income group just above the poverty line, both in recent years and over the longer term. Among older Americans, the share of income coming from earnings has increased since the mid-1980s, partly because more people, especially women, continue to work past age 55. In addition, net worth increased almost 80 percent.

Between 1974 and 2010, there was a decrease in the proportion of older people with income below poverty from 15 percent to 9 percent and with low income from 35 percent to 26 percent; and an increase in the proportion of people with high income from 18 percent to 31 percent.

Over the past four decades, labor force participation rates have risen for women age 55 and over. This trend continued during the recent recession. Among men age 55 and over, the rise in participation rates that started in the mid-1990s also has continued, although to a smaller extent. As "Baby Boomers" approach older ages, they are remaining in the labor force at higher rates than previous generations.

Health Status

Americans are living longer than ever before, yet their life expectancies lag behind those of other developed nations. Death rates for certain diseases have declined over time, while others have increased. Older age is often accompanied by increased risk of certain diseases and disorders. Large proportions of older Americans report a variety of chronic health conditions such as hypertension and arthritis. Nevertheless, most people age 65 and over report their health as good, very good, or excellent.

Life expectancy at age 65 in the United States was lower than that of many other industrialized nations. In 2009, women age 65 in Japan could expect to live on average 3.7 years longer than women in the United States. Among men, the difference was 1.3 years.

Death rates for heart disease and stroke declined by slightly more than 50 percent since 1981. Death rates for chronic lower respiratory disease increased by 57 percent in the same time period.

Women reported higher levels of arthritis than men (56 percent versus 45 percent). Men reported higher levels of heart disease (37 percent versus 26 percent). During the period 2008-2010, 76 percent of people age 65 and over rated their health as good, very good, or excellent. Non-Hispanic Whites were more likely to report good health than their non-Hispanic Black or Hispanic counterparts.

Health Risks and Behaviors

In 2010, about 11 percent of people age 65 and over reported participating in leisure-time aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities that met the 2008 Federal physical activity guidelines.

As with other age groups, the percentage of people age 65 and over who are obese has increased since 1988-1994. In 2009-2010, 38 percent of people age 65 and over were obese, compared with 22 percent in 1988-1994. Over the past several years however, that trend has leveled off for older women.

The proportion of leisure time that older Americans spent socializing and communicating-such as visiting friends or attending or hosting social events-declined with age.

Health Care

In the 1990's and early 2000's, health care costs rose rapidly for older Americans. However, average health care costs did not increase further between 2006 and 2008, after adjustment for inflation. In recent years increasing numbers of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in HMOs and other health plans under the Medicare Advantage (MA) program.

End of Life

In the last decade there has been a substantial rise in the use of hospice services among older Americans. During that time, there has also been a smaller increase in the use of intensive care unit (ICU) and coronary care unit (CCU) services at the end of life. The percent of deaths among older Americans that occurred in hospitals declined over the last 20 years, with an increase in the percent dying at home.

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