Washington The number of Americans age 65 or older increased tenfold in the last century and the elderly are living longer, in more comfort and in better health than ever before, researchers report.
But up to one in four elderly Americans, by some measures, is not sharing equally in this better life, according to a report being released Thursday that summarizes data from nine federal agencies.
"People are living longer and living more of their life in better health than before," said Richard Suzman, an expert at the National Institute on Aging, the lead agency in assembling the report.
The challenge, he said, is to keep up that trend of improvement and to spread the benefits more equally among all races and ethnic groups.
Suzman said the report will help policy-makers brace for the old-age arrival of the baby boomers, a population wave that will create "an enormous stretch" of society's health and elder care services.
The study, "Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being," compiles for the first time statistics from various agencies "to provide a unified picture of the overall health and well-being of older Americans," said Katherine K. Wallman, chief statistician of the Office of Management and Budget.
Included in the 128-page report are statistics of 31 key indicators selected to portray the lives and lifestyles of older Americans. Suzman said that such information will be updated periodically and used to help shape federal services for the elderly in the future.
Among the findings:
There are approximately 35 million people in the United States age 65 or older, accounting for about 13 percent of the total population. In 1900, the number of older Americans was about 3.1 million.
With the aging of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, America's older population will double by 2030, reaching some 70 million.
Life expectancy for Americans age 65 in 2000 is 18 years, on average. In 1900, 65-year-olds could expect to live, on average, another 12 years.
In 1998, women accounted for 58 percent of those over 65 and 70 percent of those 85 or older. About 41 percent of the older women live alone.
The older population will become more ethnically and racially diverse, the study predicts. Of those age 65 or older now, about 84 percent are non-Hispanic whites. By 2050, that number will be 64 percent.
On the Net: National Institute on Aging site:www.nih.gov/nia/news