Looking Ahead: Philadelphia Study Focuses on Diversity in Urban Aging

By Kleyman, Paul | Aging Today, November/December 2006 | Go to article overview

Looking Ahead: Philadelphia Study Focuses on Diversity in Urban Aging


Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today


"Philadelphia has a huge aging population compared to other cities. I imagine we will be on the forefront, leading the way for other cities on how to handle this transformation of our city's demographics."

This insight into the crystal ball of America's urban, aging future-a place called the City of Brotherly Love-is among many appearing in Looking Ahead: Philadelphia's Aging Population in 2015, a recent report by the nonprofit Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA). The study emphasized that significant diversity will be a primary feature of the emerging older generation: "This finding challenges those who suggest that all or even most of the next generation of elders will fit the 'boomer' image of being healthier, wealthier, and better educated than any previous generation."

The PCA report explains that although many individuals will fit the boomer stereotype, among those who will not fit into that mold are those most likely to seek the help of agencies serving the needs of elders. "These findings are especially important as they relate to urban aging, where so many of the low income and minority elders live," say the authors.

This report, among the most extensive examinations conducted on how aging demographics are likely to affect one city, yielded its findings from in-depth interviews with 40 community leaders in government, agencies and community services, analysis of biennial health surveys conducted by the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation (PHMC) from 1994-2002, and a dozen consumer focus groups conducted in 2004 among people age 50 or more.

DIVERSITY IN 2015

The PCA researchers determined that by 2015 Philadelphia's population ages 60 and older will become more diverse in such socio-demographic characteristics as national origin, language spoken, sexual preference and living arrangements. The report predicts, "As immigrants of all ages are much more likely to move to urban rather than suburban or rural areas, the impact of this change will be felt more profoundly in urban areas."

The study shows:

* Although Philadelphia's population of those ages 65 or older is expected to decline in the next decade, the number of people ages 85-plus is expected to grow by 10% between 2005 and 2015-and another 8% by 2025.

* By 2015, whites will no longer be the racial majority among the city's elders. The number of older Asians and Pacific Islanders will double, and the number of Latino elders will increase by almost 50%. Older African Americans are projected to increase by 12%.

* The proportion of impoverished elders in Philadelphia was 19% in 2002, compared to 11% of that age 65 or greater for the state of Pennsylvania.

* The calculated rise in median income for older Philadelphians is expected to fall behind inflation, resulting in declining real incomes.

In addition, the research team anticipates a growing range of income levels among elders of all backgrounds, "including more poor elderly, as well as an increase in high-income elderly among white, African American, Latino and Asian elders." Differences will stand out between high-income elders, who often live in suburban areas, and low-income older adults in inner cities. For example, although national studies at Duke University and elsewhere show a trend toward declining disability among older adults, urban elders with low incomes will probably experience increased period of disability as they age, says the report.

UNRECOGNIZED SUBGROUPS

"Philadelphia's elderly population includes subgroups that are expected to grow by 2015 that are not currently fully recognized or adequately served," said Alien Glicksman, PCA's director of research and evaluation, who oversaw the study. Among these groups, he said, are older people with chronic and late-onset mental illness and addictive disorders; elderly immigrants isolated by language and cultural barriers; grandparents caring for their grandchildren; homeless elders; older adults with developmentally disabled children; graying ex-offenders; older gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people; and growing numbers of aging Muslim, Buddhist and other religious populations. …

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