Health Status > Special Populations
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
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.;