America is about to experience an “elder boom,” a direct result of the baby boom of 1946 to 1964. We have more senior citizens in America today than we’ve had at any time in our history. Every eight seconds an American turns sixty-five; that’s more than 10,000 people per day, almost 4 million per year. A century ago, just about 3 percent of the population was sixty-five or older.
Today more than 13 percent of Americans are over sixty-five, and by 2030, the number will be 20 percent. The 5 million Americans older than eighty-five, our country’s fastest-growing demographic, will number 11.5 million by 2035. Because of advances in healthcare and technology, people are living longer than ever, often into their nineties or breaking one hundred.
Let’s remember: people getting older is not a crisis; it’s a blessing. We’re living longer; the question is how we should live. As a country, we have to figure out how to embrace this demographic shift with grace. Just as the baby boom brought with it incredible power and opportunity, so does the coming elder boom.
One thing we know is that the longer people live, the more likely they are to need assistance. Seventy percent of people aged sixty-five or older need some form of support. By 2050, the total number of individuals needing long-term care and personal assistance is projected to grow from 12 million to 27 million.
It is often assumed that women will absorb these tasks, as they have for much of our country’s history, but that is not going to happen in twenty-first-century America. Most households today are dual income, which means there is no one at home full-time; at the same time, more and more American households have both children and aging parents who need support and care every day.