U.Va.'s Cooper Center Advises Legislators to Prepare for Aging Population

January 5, 2009 — Within the next several years, the first of Virginia's "baby boom" generation will reach 65 years of age. Within the next two decades, that generation will range in age from 65 to 85, resulting in a population shift in which one in every five Virginians will be a senior citizen.

The increasing size of Virginia's older population has not escaped the attention of Sen. Edd Houck and other members of the General Assembly's Senate Finance Committee. In August, demographers from the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service responded to the legislators' request to brief the Health and Human Resources subcommittee on characteristics of older Virginians.

That report, and other related analysis, is summarized in the latest edition of Stat Chat, the center's digest of facts about demographic topics of current interest.

Working with U.S. Census Bureau data and projections, the Cooper Center's professionals find that Virginia's population age 65 and over is expected to double to 1.8 million by 2030. While older Virginians currently make up 12 percent of the commonwealth's population, 19 percent of the state's population will be in this age range by 2030. The largest concentrations of older Virginians are found in the Northern Neck and the Eastern Shore.

"While large numbers of older citizens may be present in Virginia's cities, high concentrations of seniors are found in many rural counties, accounting for special challenges for local governments and service providers," said Susan Perrone, the Cooper Center researcher who conducted the data analysis.

The report also highlights other characteristics of this population and their lives in the commonwealth:

• The population is almost evenly divided by gender up to age 65. Among those 85 and older, women outnumber men 2.5 to 1.

• Widows and widowers make up 33 percent of the population 65 and older and 70 percent of the population 85 and older.

• Two-thirds of all older Virginians live in family households with others related by marriage, birth or adoption, and 5 percent live in "group quarters" (such as nursing homes and Alzheimer centers). Of Virginians 85 and older, 18 percent live in these facilities.

• Almost all of the elderly have health insurance coverage, primarily through Medicare.

"The U.S. population as a whole is aging rapidly for two reasons," Perrone said. "One, because Baby Boomers born between 1946 to 1964 are now becoming 65 and older, and two, because people are living longer. We are seeing the same trend in Virginia.

"While the percentage of the population that is 65 and older will grow by seven points in the next 20 years, the actual number of senior Virginians is expected to double. It is critical that lawmakers and those involved with elder care be aware of these trends so we have the necessary resources and programs in place to handle this rapid change in the population."

— By Rebecca Arrington