An Aging Nation

excerpted from a paper presented at the National Conference on Philanthropic Planning, October 17, 2009:

PG_41E_-__Man_-_showing_progressive_agingAre Demographics Destiny? Contending with America’s Looming Demographic Upheavals

We are an aging nation. On August 18 of this year, the Bureau of Census released a report that the average life expectancy of Americans was at an all time high, 78 years. By 2015, one in every 5 Americans will be over the age of 65. By mid-century, the number of those over 65 will have tripled. However, the story of aging, and its implications for philanthropy, extends far beyond even these striking numbers.

First, the larger economic consequences are significant. By 2025, nearly 80% of dependents will be elderly rather than children. Elder dependency has three times the societal support costs of youth dependency.

Second, personal costs will also rise. In 1960, the average 65 year old could look forward to 13 more years of life. Now, that has grown to an average of 20 years. The conventional wisdom has been that this leaves the nation with a large group of elderly women. This is no longer true. Advances in health care, especially for cardiovascular disease and cancer, have resulted in a narrowing of the gap between male and female life expectancy at age 65. The aged will be men as well as women. In either event, these extra years are almost purely consumption years. For example, per capita expenditures on health care in 2000 were just over $4,000. By 2014 that is projected to rise markedly to $11,000.

Third, the children of those over age 80, referred to as the “oldest old,” will also still be alive, and they will be in or approaching their 60s. They too will face not only the extended lives of their aged parents, but expectations for extended lives for themselves. Resource concerns will escalate.

… The implications for philanthropic planning are significant. Conventional wisdom about widows being the primary source of planned giving must change, and strategies adjust accordingly. Lengthy lives will affect perspectives about how much philanthropy is possible or advisable. Retaining enough in principal assets to provide for a longer life expectancy may make adults hesitant to make long term or large commitments.