number of countries having a life expectancy at birth of over 60 years increased from at least 98 (with a total population of 2.7 billion) in 1980 to at least 120 (with a total population of 4.9 billion) in 1995.

How Many Older Persons Are There?

Taking age 45 as the beginning age for inclusion, there are a large number of Americans in the age range of older workers, and they represent a large percentage of the population. In the year 2000, the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population, age 16 years and older, was 209.7 million (we shall refer to this group of mostly working-age people as the “population” in the following discussion). Close to half of this population (44 percent) were age 45 or over, with 15 percent over age 64 (Fullerton and Toossi, 2001). The number of women exceeds the number of men at all age groups, and the life expectancy of women exceeds that of men. At higher ages, the ratio of men to women declines from 92 percent in the 55 to 64 age range, to 82 percent in the 65 to 74 age range, to 69 percent in the 75 to 84 age range, and to 49 percent at older ages (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999).

Of the population, 174.4 million (83 percent) were white; 25.3 million (12 percent) were black; 10.1 million (5 percent) were Asian and other; and 22.4 million (11 percent) were of Hispanic origin (a category that overlaps the others). For each of these racial and ethnic groups, the number of women over the age of 50 exceeds that of men in the same age group in similar proportions for each racial and ethnic group. However, the racial and ethnic groups show significantly different proportions of older persons. Within the white population, 39 percent are over the age of 50; the percentage is 28 for blacks and only 20 for people of Hispanic origin (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000).

What Are the Past and Future Trends?

The year 2000 figures represent a continuing trend toward an increasing number of older persons constituting an increasing proportion of the population. Population pyramids for the years 1900, 1980, 1990, and 2000 show a historical trend away from the high proportion of younger people that created bottom-heavy distributions at the beginning of last century toward a more equal distribution of the population across age groups (see Figure 2-1, from Fullerton and Toossi, 2001). After World War II, the baby boom of 1946 to 1964 resulted in a prominent population bulge, with 75 million persons born. As they age, these baby boomers increasingly contribute to the growing proportion of older persons in the population, until, by the year 2060 or thereabouts, their numbers disappear.

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