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Understanding Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life: A Research Agenda
TABLE 1-1 Population Aged 65 and Older, 2000 and Projected 2050
Annual Growth Rate (%)
Racial or Ethnic Group
Asian or Pacific Islander
American Indian or Alaska Native
SOURCE: Estimated from U.S. Census Bureau (2002a).
covered. The five racial and ethnic groups we consider, therefore, are Hispanics, whites, blacks, Asians, and American Indians and Alaska Natives. Because of the paucity of data, we do not consider multiracial groups.
Table 1-1 shows the numbers of individuals aged 65 years or older in each of the major groups. In 2000, whites were 83.5 percent of this age group, a substantially larger proportion than their 71.4 percent in the general population. Part of the reason for the difference is the number of younger immigrants, mostly nonwhite, which reduces the proportion of whites at younger ages. The foreign-born population in the United States has become increasingly younger since the 1960s (He, 2002). Nevertheless, in the older population, the foreign born were a substantial, if not dominant, proportion in some groups in 2000. Fully 50 percent of Hispanics 65 years and older were foreign born, as well as 84 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001).
By 2050, whites are projected to be only 64.2 percent of those aged 65 and older. The Hispanic proportion will almost triple in this period, going from 5.6 to 16.4 percent, and Asians will increase almost as fast. Blacks and American Indians and Alaska Natives will show more moderate growth, but still faster growth than whites because of differential fertility in the past, delayed improvements in mortality, and population momentum (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002a). Whether these racial and ethnic distinctions will remain socially relevant cannot be predicted, but some of them have persisted for centuries. In any case, any differences in health in later life among these groups will become increasingly consequential.
Historically, the recognition of new racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. population has often been marked by conflict, prejudice, and disparate