Aging: A Few Statistics

Baby boomers — those born after World War II, between 1946 and 1964 — have helped bring about tremendous advances in medicine, science, and technology. One of the results of these advances is that people are now living longer, are healthier, and have access to better diagnostics and health care. Longevity is only expected to increase over the next few decades.

As each year passes, the number of people over 60 is not the only significant factor; the oldest members of the aging population are also growing older. In fact, the fastest-growing segment of the population over 60 is the segment that is over 80. This fact alone has a major impact on the health-care industry because, in general, the older the person, the more likely he or she is to need more health-care services. This raises the problem of shortages of health-care workers, especially nurses, to crisis levels.

In 1950, only 12 percent of the population of developed countries (North America, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia) was over 60. By 1998, that number had increased to 19 percent, and by 2025 it is expected to reach 28 percent. In absolute numbers, the range is from 100 million people over age 60 in 1950 to over 500 million by 2025.

For a large portion of the older population, the primary caregivers are not children but spouses. However, statistically, women outnumber men. Women are in the majority when it comes to the oldest segment of those over eighty; this means that as they age, most women will need to turn to other family members or to institutions such as assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

As life expectancies continue to increase, so does the likelihood that middle-aged adults will find themselves caring not only for their growing children but for their aging parents as well. Concomitantly, as their parents age, their needs will become more pressing and more time consuming.

Women are the predominant caregivers. Wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, sisters, and sisters-in-law provide the care to aging family members. Women provide more than twice as many hours of care to their elder parents or in-laws as men do. Often this is due to the type of care provided.

Men typically provide assistance with transportation or household maintenance and repairs, whereas women provide more of the activities of daily living and personal care such as bathing, grooming, dressing, and toileting. Shopping, running errands, food preparation, and cleaning chores can be shared, but again, more women than men usually do these chores.

According to several studies from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of these women are 45 to 56 years old and work full time outside the home. The average caregiver is a 46-year-old married female who works outside of the home and earns an annual income of $35,000.

Of that number, 20 percent have had to reduce the number of hours they work, utilize flexible work situations, have lost income, and or have had to quit work entirely to stay home and be caregivers to an elder parent or in-law.

In the corporate world, it is estimated that as the population continues to age, most employees will be affected by elder-care issues at some point during their careers. At the present, more productivity is affected due to elder-care issues than those of child care. According to the New York Business Group on Health, Inc., almost $34 billion is lost on elder-care responsibilities in the U.S., and the problems are probably more widespread than any available survey data suggests.

Creative solutions are going to be necessary in order to preserve the valuable work force as it faces the challenges of caring for aging parents. In the U.S., more than 14 million workers have elder-care responsibilities. Of that number, 7–10 million are trying to care for their aging parents long distance.

These experienced workers are dedicated employees with irreplaceable knowledge and expertise whose loss can cost companies even more in the long run in terms of corporate operations, competitive edge, and overall financial success and survival.

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