Academic journal article Generations

Women: A Demographic Lens

Academic journal article Generations

Women: A Demographic Lens

Article excerpt

T: elder pepulatien is typically presented as lomogeneous group. Hand-wringing about mpact of the storied Baby Boom Generation in driving a rapidly growing number of older adults usually treats this cohort as an undifferentiated mass (e.g., see Congressional Budget Office, 2017). But the older population is diverse, and will only get more so in the coming years. This article documents the diversity of the older population, and emphasizes how the changing demographics of the older population present specific challenges for older women. This article examines how the socially conditioned categories of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation are associated with differential health and resource profiles, which result from the dominant structures and cultural norms that characterize caregiving, job markets, and government policies.

Historically, the older population has been growing steadily as a proportion of the total population as birth rates have decreased and life expectancy has increased. In 1900, 4 percent of the U.S. population (3.1 million persons) was ages 65 and older. By 1950, this amount had doubled to 8 percent (12.3 million) and by 2014 had grown to 14.5 percent (46.2 million). As America's baby boomers continue to enter old age, the proportion of the total population that is elderly is growing particularly fast, and will reach an estimated 20.6 percent (74.1 million) of the U.S. population by 2030, when the entire cohort will be ages 65 and older.

In comparison, Japan, Germany, and Italy already have greater proportions of their population that is ages 65 and older than the United States will have in 2030. Low fertility is expected to continue to "age" the population, such that 23.6 percent (98.2 million) of the U.S. population is projected to be elderly by 2060 (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2016). These numbers, however, reveal only a small part of the story.

The Longevity of Older Women

A fundamental demographic fact of the older population is that it is disproportionately female, and women more acutely experience the social impact of the burgeoning older population be^ABSTRACT cause, compared to men, they experience more chronic conditions, have lower incomes, and are more likely to do the care work needed by many older adults. Currently, 56 percent of the U.S. population ages 65 and older is female, which increases to 66 percent at ages 85 and older. The gender distribution is similar across all racial and ethnic groups except for African Americans, where women have about a 5 percent higher representation (60 percent and 71 percent at ages 65 and older, and 85 and older, respectively) due to higher mortality rates among African American men (Ruggles et al., 2017).

Life expectancy has risen over the past century, but both gender and racial differences have persisted, even for those who survive to age 65. In 1900, the shortest life expectancy for those reaching age 65 was 10.4 additional years for black men and the highest was 12.2 years for white women. By 2015, the differences by race and gender persist, with white women having the longest lives and black men having the shortest (see Figure 1 above; National Center for Health Statistics, 2017).

Women, disability, and chronic conditions

Most Americans would like to live as long as is possible, but most also want to live without disability and as independently as possible. Analyzing the longevity of women and men of all races at age 65, women live about two-and-a-half years longer than men (20.7 versus 18.1 years), but have only two more years of disability-free life (15.4 versus 13.4), meaning that they are spending more years living disabled than men (GBD 2015 DALYs and HALE Collaborators, 2016).

Older women are more likely than older men to report any disability (23.5 percent versus 19.3 percent), with the greatest gap found in those reporting a mobility disability (17.1 percent versus 10. …

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