College of Liberal Arts

Report Shows Economic, Social Impact of U.S. Aging Population

Sat, Nov 2, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas – As the over-65 population grows to about one in five Americans, more economically advantaged seniors are providing a family safety net for the younger generation. Yet for a large portion of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, the “golden years” are less prosperous, according to a US2010 report from The University of Texas at Austin and Brown University.

The report, co-authored by Jenjira J. Yahirun, a research affiliate in the UT Austin Population Research Center and California Center for Population Research, UCLA, raises important questions about the broad social and economic consequences of the U.S. aging population.

According to the analysis, seniors are becoming increasingly diverse in terms of their schooling, employment status, income, gender, race-ethnicity, place of birth and age. All of these factors affect older family members’ ability to provide a safety net to the younger generation and their need to rely on the family safety net themselves.

The longevity of today’s older adults offers greater opportunities for meaningful interactions with children and grandchildren, says Judith A. Seltzer, UCLA sociology researcher and lead author of the report. In recent years, as they have made significant gains in their own economic well-being, older adults’ financial help and caregiving have been important in helping adult children and grandchildren weather economic crises.

Yet, the strength of these ties has been tested by changes in the structure and composition of families caused by high rates of cohabitation, childbearing outside of marriage and divorce. And the rates of disruption are higher for poorer families. Older parents with the fewest resources to share are most likely to be called on for help.

According to the findings:

  • The elderly population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Hispanics are projected to comprise 20 percent of those ages 65 and up in 2050.
  • Compared to younger adults, the elderly are less likely to be poor but gender and race differences are great among the elderly. In old age minority men are much more likely to be poor than white women.
  • Immigrants have fewer social and economic resources available in the United States than native-born U.S. residents. Hispanic elderly report that many of their health and economic needs remain unmet even when they receive assistance from family members.
  • Even among those who are economically disadvantaged, however, grandparents are an important source of support for their grandchildren.
  • Almost one third of grandmothers who live with a grandchild bear primary responsibility for the child. This pattern is especially pronounced for African American grandmothers.

As the U.S. population ages, policy debates about Social Security and Medicare, programs that support the elderly, should consider the changing characteristics of the old-age population and the family contexts in which they live, the researchers note.

Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University, the US2010 research project examines changes in American society in the recent past. Go to this website for more details.

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