Demographic and Socioeconomic Considerations

At all ages, life expectancy is greater for women than for men. Women outlive men by 5 to 7 years, contributing to a "gender gap" within the elderly population and greater numbers of older women than men. Women will account for more than 23.2 million of the 40.2 million American adults age 65 years and older in 2010; and are expected to exceed 40.1 million of the 71.4 million American elderly by 2030. Women also are more likely than men to live to very advanced ages (e.g., age 85 and above); in 2010, there were roughly 4.2 million American women age 85 and over but only 1.9 million men of that age. By 2030 the numbers will have grown to 6.3 million and 3.3 million, respectively. In other words, among the oldest old, there are roughly 2 women per every one man.

This gender gap in life expectancy is one reason why women are more likely than men to lose their spouse to death. The gender gap in widowhood is compounded by the fact that women typically marry men 2-3 years older than themselves. As a result of the gender gap in life expectancy and widowhood, older women are much more likely than older men to live alone.

Advanced age and living alone greatly increase the risk for nursing home placement. When the daily care needs of a person exceed the level of support available at home, a nursing home may be a dependent person's only option. Yet contrary to popular belief, most older adults, even those in their 80s, live in their own homes or apartments, with only a small minority living in long-term care facilities. According to the U.S. Census, slightly over 5% of persons age 65+ live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, although this rate increases steadily with age, with rates of 1.4% among those 65-74, 24.5% among those 85+, and almost 50% among those ages 95+.

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