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60 or 65? How old is old?

September 17, 2018
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When you hear the phrase older adult, whom do you picture? This phrase can be used to describe a population composed of many different people, depending on the purpose of the conversation. Sometimes when we say older adult, we may be referring to a stage of life rather than a specific age range.

In our work here at The Center for Community Solutions, you will find us using older adult with a defined age range. In a perusal of our publications you will find we use both age 60 and age 65 as the beginning age of being an older adult. Although it may appear willy-nilly, our decision to use either age is generally based on two things – age for program eligibility and available census data.

Sometimes our choice to use 60 or 65 is determined by whether we are more interested in how the population relates to the OAA or Medicare/Social Security.

From a programmatic standpoint, at age 60, a person is eligible to receive services through the federally funded Older Americans Act (OAA). These services may include transportation, home-delivered meals and chore services. For this reason, many service providers and community members are interested in knowing how many residents aged 60 and older reside in their communities. At age 65, a person becomes eligible for Medicare. Although for many years 65 also marked the age a person would retire and be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits. The current age for full retirement is 66 and will slowly increase until it reaches 67. It is quite difficult to find a data source that offers population estimates broken into specific yearly ages, so 65 is often used as a stand-in when data is needed to describe those receiving Social Security retirement benefits. Sometimes our choice to use 60 or 65 is determined by whether we are more interested in how the population relates to the OAA or Medicare/Social Security. Other times it is based on access to data.

[bctt tweet="60 or 65? How old is old? We use different numbers for different reasons - find out why here " username="CommunitySols"]

Data availability from the Census may determine why we use one age over the other. Data tables from the American Community Survey (ACS), have some information broken down into five-year age increments; 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, etc.; and other times it is reported out in three age groups; under 18, 18 to 64 and over 65. These age groupings determine what we can learn about the populations that begin at the two age markers of being an older adult. One example is the difference between poverty and poverty levels. Using data from the ACS, I can tell you that 8.6 percent of Ohioans over the age of 60 live below the poverty threshold. However, if you want to know how many older Ohioans currently live at less than 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold, I can only tell you about those aged 65 and older, of which 30 percent are have incomes at, or below, 125% of poverty.

In the state of Ohio, children (under age 18) currently make up a higher percentage of the population than older adults do, if we consider 65 as the age of older adults. The opposite is true if an older adult is someone who has reached the age of 60.

In some ways, five years can make quite a difference. This can be seen when we look at the changing demographics resulting from the aging of the baby boomer generation and whether they have surpassed children as a percentage of the overall population. Including data from the recently released 2017 population estimates, I created two charts comparing the population of children and older adults. In the state of Ohio, children (under age 18) currently make up a higher percentage of the population than older adults do, if we consider 65 as the age of older adults. The opposite is true if an older adult is someone who has reached the age of 60. Currently, an estimated 22.4 percent of Ohio’s population is under age 18, while an estimated 23.2 percent of the population is older than age 60, a trend that is expected to continue.

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