The making of a more elderly America

The aging of America is a success story by almost any measure. At the start of this century, the average American, according to the US Census Bureau, would have been fortunate to reach age 50. Today, thanks in part to advances in health care and better living conditions, Americans can be expected to live well into their 80s.

Currently, 12 percent of the US population, some 34 million people, are over the age of 65. But those numbers will soar in the next century, demographers say. More than 80 percent of all Americans will live past 65. Many of them - perhaps as many as 50 percent of the total, according to Nationwide Insurance Company - will need special elder-care living arrangements.

Women will be the main recipients of such care. More than 70 percent of all nursing-home residents are women. And since women already tend to outlive men, they have a greater likelihood of needing elder-care help at some point in their lives. Yet, few women have long-term health-care insurance.

Another aspect to the assisted-living equation: Many of those now receiving long-term care are not elderly people at all, but adults under the age of 65.

The bottom line is that many adults in their 30s or 40s are finding that they must not only meet the needs of their own families, while fulfilling their own work responsibilities, but must be caregivers as well.

Perhaps the most sobering statistic of all: According to a study by the Consumer Federation of America and Primerica, a member of Citicorp, one-half of all American households have accumulated less than $1,000 in net financial assets. For these families, helping an elderly parent can become very problematic.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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