The Oldest Generation

All of us living in the last half can benefit from a portrait of the oldest among us. We can’t foresee an individual life, but we can guide ourselves more clearly if we know some averages or trends that describe our oldest brothers and sisters.

In November, 2011, the Census Bureau published a new report entitled: “90+ in the United States: 2006-2008,” in which it characterizes this oldest segment of the U.S. population. (PDF here)

The generation 90 and over is small. There were about 1.8 million (mm) people 90 and over during 2006-2008, which was about 0.6% of the total US population. About 1.55mm (88%) are white. Women far outnumber men: there are about 1.3mm women, and about 0.46mm men—almost a 3 to 1 ratio.

Widowed?—about half the men (49.3%), but the large majority of women (84%).
Married?—about 43% of the men, but only 6.3% of the women.

Perhaps the most surprising and encouraging statistic in the report is that only about 23% of the 90+ people are institutionalized. Most, 74.4%, live in households, with about half living alone, and half living with others.

Men are less likely to be institutionalized in these late years—about 14.5% were institutionalized in 2006-2008, whereas 25.5% of the women were. In each group, there are a small number living in group homes that aren’t nursing homes or similar institutional places.

These data help a person think about long-term care insurance: if about 75% of the oldest people are living in households, is long-term care insurance necessary? There is more to consider than merely these current statistics—such as a person’s health, availability of supporting family members, personal wealth, among others—but still, many of our oldest generation are getting along without being institutionalized.

Most of the people 90 and over are unmarried, which means it may be wise, even for young retirees currently married, to think ahead about how they will adjust to the loss of a spouse. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about it, framing some likely problems, doing a little research, and listing one or two possible plans.

In capsule, our late years look like this: for men, we have a good chance of being married, though more of us will be widowed, and we’re likely to be living in a household.  Women will have a small chance of being married, but still likely to be living in a household. That’s assuming trends stay steady.

More next time.