U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Older Women

In 2007, there were 37.9 million adults aged 65 years and older in the United States, representing 12.6 percent of the total population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the older population is expected to grow to 72 million by 2030, representing approximately 20 percent of the population. In 2007, older women composed 7.3 percent of the total population while men accounted for 5.3 percent. Women represented a larger proportion of the population than men within every older age group.

Among women aged 65 years and older and not living in an institution, 42.2 percent were married and living with a spouse in 2007, while another 38.6 percent lived alone. Nearly 9 percent of older women were heads of their household, with no spouse present, meaning that they have children or other family members, but no spouse, living with them in a housing unit that they own or rent. Research has suggested that older adults who live alone are more likely to live in poverty, which has numerous implications including increased risk of food insecurity, decreased access to health care facilities due to lack of transportation, and inability to pay utility bills.1

Employment plays a significant role in the lives of many older Americans. In 2007, more than 2.4 million women aged 65 years and older were working, accounting for 10.8 percent of women in this age group. Nearly 19 percent of women aged 65–74 years were employed during 2007, while only 3.5 percent of those aged 75 and older were employed (data not shown).

In 2004, an estimated 1.5 million adults resided in nursing homes. Women aged 65 years and older accounted for 65.7 percent of the nursing home resident population. Some nursing home facilities offer end-of-life or palliative care for their residents; in 2004, 17.2 percent of facilities reported participating in at least one end-of-life program, while 16.7 percent also reported having trained staff for providing palliative and end-of-life care (data not shown).2

1 Cawthorne, A. Elderly Poverty: The Challenge Before Us. Center for American Progress. July 30, 2008 [online]. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/report/2008/07/30/4690/elderly-poverty-the-challenge-before-us/, accessed 3/30/09.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Nursing Home Survey, 2004. Analysis conducted by Maternal and Child Health Information Resource Center.

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