Health Status > Special Populations

Older Women

In 2000, there were 34.9 million adults aged 65 and older in the United States; by 2003, that number had grown to 35.9 million, representing 12 percent of the total population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the older population is projected to grow to 72 million in 2030, or 20 percent of the total population, due to the aging of the Baby Boom generation. At the time of the 2000 Census, older women composed 7.3 percent of the population while men composed 5.1 percent.

Older people who live alone are more likely to reside in poverty than those who live with their spouses, and living alone can also increase social isolation and reliance upon formal social supports.1 In 2003, almost three-quarters of older men lived with a spouse, while fewer than half of women had the same living arrangement. Women were more likely to live alone than men (39.7 versus 18.8 percent). Many women also lived with relatives (17.4 percent).
Marital status influences many aspects of people’s lives, including living arrangements, income, health, and mortality. Research shows that older married people, especially men, live longer, healthier lives than their unmarried counterparts (including the divorced and widowed).1 In 2003, 41.1 percent of older women were married, compared to 71.2 percent of men; this corresponds with the percent of each population that lived with a spouse. Women were more likely than men to be widowed (44.3 versus 14.3 percent) and divorced (8.6 versus 7.0 percent).

Older Americans play a large part in the American economy and social structure, participating in formal volunteer activities (with an organization), informal volunteer activities (helping others outside of their own household), and caring for family members (including parents, spouses, and grandchildren). The value of these activities, determined through the 2002 Health and Retirement Study, is estimated at $97.6 to $201 billion, or $2,698 per person. In 2002, about 74 percent of older adults volunteered their time or provided unpaid care to family members. Time spent caring for family members represented approximately 61 percent of the total value of unpaid activities. The older population provided grandchild care worth approximately $27.3 billion, spousal care worth $22.1 billion, and parent care worth $13.5 billion. Formal volunteering was worth $25.4 billion while informal volunteering was worth $10.1 billion.

Older women devote more time to volunteering than older men. In 2002, women contributed an estimated $2,968 per capita compared to $2,363 per capita contributed by men. This difference is true in each of the five activity types, but is most pronounced in the care of grandchildren: in 2002, women supplied nearly 70 percent of all grandchild care.

1 He W, Sengupta M, Velkoff V, Debarros K; U.S. Census Bureau. 65+ in the United States: 2005. Current Population Reports, P23-209. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.; 2005.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.