The number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, reaching 80 million in 2040. The number of adults ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2040.
The nation is aging. By 2040, about one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, up from about one in eight in 2000. Because younger people are much more likely than older people to work and pay taxes that finance Social Security, Medicare, and all other public-sector activities, population aging could strain government budgets.
The number of workers sharing the cost of supporting Social Security beneficiaries will soon plummet unless future employment patterns change dramatically. The latest Social Security Administration projections indicate that there will be 2.1 workers per Social Security beneficiary in 2040, down from 3.7 in 1970.
Declining fertility rates partly account for population aging. The total fertility rate—the number of children women bear—plummeted during the Great Depression in the 1930s and then soared in the 1950s after World War II (producing what we know as the "baby boom" cohort). Fertility then declined steeply until the mid 1970s. The total fertility rate increased slightly after 1975 and now stands at about 2.1, roughly the minimum rate needed to maintain population size without any net immigration.
Improvements in life expectancy have also propelled the increase in the older population. Between 1900 and 1960, life expectancy at birth increased from 51 years to 74 years for men and from 58 years to 80 years for women, primarily through reductions in infant, childhood, and early adult mortality. Longevity gains since 1960, fueled by declining death rates at older ages, have been slower, especially for women. Life expectancy's future course is uncertain but could grow dramatically. Some experts claim that half of girls born today will live until age 100 (Vaupel 2000).
Older Americans are also living longer. In 1960, men who turned age 62 could expect to live another 15 years. By 2040, they will likely live for another 22 years. For 62-year-old women, the gain in remaining life expectancy between 1960 and 2040 will be four years. If the earliest eligibility age for Social Security retirement benefits remains 62, rising life expectancy will increase the number of years older adults receive benefits.