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Isolated Elderly in the U.S. Great Plains: The Roles of Environment and Demography in Creating a Vulnerable Population

Publication Abstract

Leonard, Susan Hautaniemi, and Myron Gutmann. 2005. "Isolated Elderly in the U.S. Great Plains: The Roles of Environment and Demography in Creating a Vulnerable Population." Annales de Démographie Historique, 2: 81-108.

Elderly populations are recognized as among the most vulnerable populations of the world. Isolation contributes to the vulnerability of elderly persons, decreasing social networks and increasing the difficulty of accessing health and social services. While the U.S. has been aging fairly rapidly since 1920, the Great Plains have been “older” than the nation since 1950, and the percentage of the population 65 years and above has increased at a faster rate. In more than one-quarter of the counties in the Great Plains one of every five residents is elderly. In addition, due to the mode of dispersed settlement in the region and environmental characteristics including low rainfall, seasonal temperature extremes and sheer geographic scale, these elderly populations are also isolated. This situation is the culmination of decades of declining populations, low in-migration, high out-migration particularly among young adults, resulting low numbers of births, and aging-in-place for seniors. We synthesize the interconnected processes that have created the current (and future) isolated, vulnerable elderly populations of the Great Plains, and the role that the particular environmental characteristics of the region played in shaping these demographic trajectories. Employment opportunities in agriculture are associated with a younger adult population. However, declining population and age-specific population loss are the largest factors in creating aging populations and elderly vulnerability. Lack of social and natural amenities are also important, and highlight the difficulty of reversing the trend towards older and more isolated elderly populations in the region.

Country of focus: United States of America.

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