When it comes to the topic of aging, it is easy to encounter “information overload” very quickly.
All the issues and data distill into five fundamental truths:
- The population of older adults is larger than ever in history — not only in NC and the US, but the entire world — and it continues to grow.
- Older adults are vulnerable, an unavoidable consequence of aging.
- The majority of elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels are aware of the first and second truths, and have been for around 50 years.
- Support and funding for services that help and protect older adults lag behind the need.
- Policies and systems that are good for older adults are proven to be good for everyone else.
Information is a source of learning.
But unless it is organized, processed,
and available to
the right people
in a format for decision making,
it is a burden,
not a benefit.
Demographics of Aging in NC
Consider these facts:
- NC ranks 9th in the nation for growth in the older adult population.
- In 2022, the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are now 58 to 76 years old. Boomers are the single largest birth cohort in history.
- In North Carolina, there are now more people age 60+ than under 18 years of age.
- In the next two decades, our 65 and older population will increase from 1.7 to 2.7 million, a projected growth of 56%.
- The projected growth among the age groups 65-74 (29% increase), 75-84 (87% increase), and 85+ (116% increase) indicates that as the baby boomers continue to age, there will be an increased proportion of older adults in the state.
- Without intentional planning and execution, this exponential and unprecedented increase will stress our state’s existing infrastructure if key issues are not addressed.
The saying, “A picture paints a thousand words” holds true for demonstrating the aging phenomenon happening in NC, the US, and across the world.
The figure to the right compares NC’s population in 1900 (red) to 2030 (purple). Each layer represents the population in five-year age increments, with birth to 4 years old at the the bottom and age 75+ at the top.
1900 reflects the societal norm of high birth rates (lots of children) and short life spans (very small bars at the top of the pyramid). Most of us remember that our grandparents and great-grandparents had at least five siblings, and many had ten or more brothers and sisters.
Fast forward 130 years, and by 2030 the shape of the population pyramid changes significantly. It illustrates new societal norms of having far fewer children and much longer life spans.
It clearly demonstrates the new reality of our multi-generational society. The vulnerabilities of older adults are different than those of children, but they are equally deserving of care and protection.
NC Population Change Rates 2020-2040
This chart shows the rate of increase for five key age groups in NC.
It does not indicate that age 60+ is the only group that will grow in number, but it will grow the most, from 23% to 27% of total population by 2040, an increase of 40%.
In comparison, all other age groups are projected to grow at a slower rate, as shown.
In aggregate, age 59 and younger is projected to grow by 15%.
NC Dependency Ratios of “Caregivers” Age 18-59
for Frail Adults Age 85+
This chart is a simplistic way of looking at the “age wave,” but its message is worth considering.
In 2020, for every person age 85+, there were 30 people age 18-59 who could hypothetically be part of their extended caregiving team in the state of North Carolina. Given that typically the core group of caregivers for an individual includes their spouse, adult children, and siblings, who are likely older than age 59, some might concluded that this image is misleading. However, it addresses the need for support provided by direct care workers, such as in-home nursing assistants.
By 2040, projections indicate there will be only 16 people age 18-59 who could hypothetically be part of the extended care team. The lack of direct care workers is already upon us with the sweep of COVID and its variants across the nation and world. The healthcare industry is focused on solutions which include greater outreach and recruitment to high school and college students. However, a key barrier is the low wage paid to personal aide workers.