Academic journal article Generations

The 'Browning' of the Graying of America: Diversity in the Elderly Population and Policy Implications

Academic journal article Generations

The 'Browning' of the Graying of America: Diversity in the Elderly Population and Policy Implications

Article excerpt

California as an example of the future.

Two demographic trends of great policy consequence have been occurring in the U.S. population: One has received a great deal of attention; the other hardly any. The first trend-obvious to almost everyone-is "the graying of America," caused primarily by increases in life expectancy and exacerbated by the demographic bulge of baby boomers (Hayes-Bautista, Schink and Chapa,1988) who are now well into their 50s.

The second trend-far less noticed-is the geriatric extension of the so-called browning of America (Henry, 1990). The Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander populations have grown rapidly over the past two decades. Fueled by both high rates of immigration and high birth rates, the Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander populations have more than doubled in size over the past twenty years. This browning trend is also being seen in the elderly population. The country is experiencing a "browning" of the "graying" of America.

Amidst calls for more information about "minority" elders (Gibson, 1989; Gibson and Stoller, 1998; Gelfland, 1994, 1999; and Yeatts, 1992), some have begun to explore the increased diversity of the older population. For one prominent example, the mainstream organization AA" has not only revamped its flagship publication to appeal more to the baby boomer generation, but it recently began publishing Segunda Juventud, a Spanish-language version of its monthly newspaper (AARP, 2002). So far, however, only a modest amount of research has focused on older people of color (Markides and Miranda, 1997; Padgett,1995; Torres-Gil and Puccinelli,1994; Torres-Gil and Kuo,1998). This paper will explore the increasing diversity of older people in California and the policy implications of such diversity for programs and planning.


For a number of reasons that include major immigration flows, lower mortality, and longer life expectancy, most of the growth in California's elder population in the recent past has been driven by growth in the numbers of Latino and Asian elderly and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. (Data in this section are taken from the census of 1990 and 2000, as compiled and reported by various state agencies.)


As of the 2000 census, California's overall population had no single racial or ethnic majority. Shown in Figure 1, the Non-Hispanic white population was 46.7 percent of the total population, while Latinos were 32.4 percent, African Americans were 6.4 percent, Asian/Pacific Islanders were 10.8 percent, and American Indians were 0.5 percent.

However, the ethnic composition of the state's population varied tremendously by age group. As shown in Figure 2, the 3.6 million persons who constituted the elderly population still had an ethnic majority group: Non-Hispanic whites were 70 percent of the 65-plus age group, while other ethnic groups were still minorities in that age group. In fact, the ethnic composition of the state's elderly population in 2000 replicates almost exactly the ethnic composition of the state's entire population in 1970.

In contrast, the 9.3 million children of the state of California (age 0-7) in 2000 exhibit a markedly different ethnic composition: Non-Hispanic white children were a small numerical minority, just over one-third of all children, with socalled minority children constituting nearly two-thirds. Nearly half of all children in the state were Latino. In thirty-one years (beginning in 2033), these children will start to turn So years of age, making them eligible to be considered for membership in many organizations for elderly people, under current definitions. At that point, the diversity of the elderly population in the state will be quite noticeable.

However, the momentous changes taking place in the ethnic composition of the elderly can be seen by observing the components of change of that 65-- plus population over the past ten years. …

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