William H. Frey photo

Mapping the Growth of Older America: Seniors and Boomers in the Early 21st Century

Publication Abstract

Frey, William H. 2007. "Mapping the Growth of Older America: Seniors and Boomers in the Early 21st Century." Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution May


Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data on the changing size, location, and characteristics of America’s senior (aged 65 and over) and pre-senior (aged 55 to 64) populations reveals that:

■ The aging of the baby boom generation makes pre-seniors this decade’s fastest- growing age group, expanding nearly 50 percent in size from 2000 to 2010.Poised to create a “senior tsunami” beginning in 2011, this group will be more highly educated, have more professional women, and exhibit more household diversity than previous gen- erations entering traditional retirement age.

■ Pre-senior populations are growing rapidly everywhere, especially in economically dynamic Sun Belt areas previously known for their youth, such as Las Vegas, Austin, Atlanta, and Dallas.“Exurban” parts of these large metro areas, along with smaller metro areas like Santa Fe, NM and Boise, ID, seem to have attracted mobile boomers who wish to live near both work and natural amenities as they approach retire- ment age.

■ The World War II generation currently entering its senior years is growing fastest in the Intermountain West and South Atlantic states, especially suburban areas there. These high-growth areas tend to have younger, higher-income, more highly-edu- cated senior populations. Despite their low rates of senior growth, northern states like Pennsylvania, Iowa, and North Dakota exhibit some of the nation’s highest senior popu- lation shares due to low immigration and past out-migration of their younger residents.

■ In states where senior populations will grow fastest over the next 35 years, “aging in place” rather than migration will drive this growth. In Georgia, for instance, the senior population will increase by more than 40 percent from 2010 to 2020 due to the aging of existing residents, versus less than 3 percent due to migration.

■ Projected boomer aging will cause the suburbs of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles to become considerably “older” than the cities themselves by 2040. Seniors and pre-seniors moving from cities to suburbs outnumber those moving in the opposite direction; those moving into cities are on average more highly educated, more affluent, and less likely to be married than their suburbanizing counterparts.

Today’s seniors and pre-seniors are upending traditional notions of how and where Ameri- cans spend their later years. The rise of boomer populations in suburban and Sun Belt locations will create new demand for senior-oriented housing and amenities. As older pop- ulations age in place, however—especially in the suburbs of slower-growing metropolitan areas—public policies must respond to the new stresses they will exert on health, trans- portation, and social-support systems.

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