Note: The term elderly refers to people
65 years of age and older.
LIVING AND DYING
Growing Numbers: In
1997, there were 31.9 million elderly people: 13.4 million men and
18.5 million women. That’s eleven times more people over 65 years
than in 1900. The number under 65 years has only tripled since then.
Living Longer: In 1776,
life expectancy was 35 years. By 1996, life expectancy had climbed
to 76 years. Women average 79 years, with whites living until 80
and African Americans to 74 years. Men average 73 years, with whites
living until 74 and African Americans to 66 years.
Reaching 65: Those reaching
65 years can expect, on the average, to live another 17 years. Again,
this varies by sex and race. White women have 19 more years, but
African American women have 17 more. White men have 15.7 more years
but African American men 13.6 more.
More Women: For every
100 women who are 65 years or older, there are 69 men. Among those
85 years or older, there are only 39 men for every 100 women.
Alone or Together: 75%
of elderly men living outside institutions (like nursing homes)
have a spouse; 41% of elderly women do. When health fails, elderly
men are likely to have a spouse for support; elderly women more
often live and die alone. And, the older one gets, the greater the
need for help bathing, getting around the house, and preparing meals.
In 1993, eight of ten elderly people living alone (outside institutions)
Health Care Needs: Approximately
80% of the elderly population will face at least one of the following
chronic, limiting illnesses or conditions: heart disorders, arthritis,
diabetes, osteoporosis, senile dementia, and ones that affect respiratory
and digestive systems.
Doctors and Hospitals:
On average, persons between 65-74 years visit doctors ½ve times
per year and those over 75 years visit six times. (Note:
Those between 22-44 years averaged two visits per annum.) In addition,
the majority of those 65 years and over had hospital care in the
past ½ve years (1994).
all (99%) those over 65 years have health insurance, 96% having
Medicare. This percentage is higher than for those under 65 years.
However, insurance coverage is increasingly inadequate for many
elderly person's needs; poor elderly people report having to choose
between buying food or buying medicine.
In 1995, over 250 million meals were provided elderly people through
federally supported programs. Nearly one half of these went to those
who were homebound due to disability, illness, or geographic isolation.
Still, many poor elderly people report skipping meals because of
a lack of food and money.
Food Stamp Programs:
In 1995, coupons were used by 2 million elderly people, but only
35% of eligible elderly persons had applied for them.
Physical Safety: Elderly
persons feel particularly vulnerable to crime, with 55% afraid to
walk alone at night. Only 40% of 40-49 year olds had similar fears.
one out of every ten elderly persons was living in official poverty
in 1996. This is between three and four million people. About 14%
of elderly women and 7% of elderly men were officially poor. Also,
9.4% of the elderly whites, 25.3% of elderly African Americans,
24.4% for Hispanics were poor. And, for all groups, the older you
get, the more likely it is you will become poor.
Median Income: The median
income for elderly men in 1996 was $16,886 for whites, $11,570 for
African Americans, and $9,794 for Hispanics. The median incomes
of elderly women were substantially less: $9,654 for whites, $7,067
for African Americans, and $6,652 for Hispanics.
Social Security: For
many, social security is all they have. However, some, have other
means of support: interest (67%), pensions (32%), dividends (20%),
wages & salaries (14%), and rents, royalties, and trusts (11%).
Housing: The overwhelming
majority of elderly people live in households not in institutions.
Half of the elderly poor spend 50% or more of their income in housing
costs. Over 1/3 of all federally subsidized housing is occupied
by older persons.
Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce,
Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States (yearly);
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Sixty-Five Plus in
the United States, 1995; Yntema,S. (Ed.) Americans 55 &
Older: A Changing Market, Ithaca, NY: New Strategist Publications,
1997; Weimer, J.P Many Elderly at Nutritional Risk, Food Review
20:1 (Jan.-April 1997), 42-48.