By: John Besl
My mother, who turns 85 in June, recently underwent knee replacement surgery. Trying to be a good son, I’ve visited her several times in in the rehabilitation unit of her retirement community. As an eyewitness to the frailty (and strength) of my mom and the other recuperating seniors in the rehab unit, I’ve grown more keenly aware of the huge population aging trend that’s transforming our region, our nation, and the world. When social scientists speak of population aging, they mean that the share of people in the older ages is growing. In the most recent set of population projections released in 2012 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States’ population at ages 65 and over is expected to double in just 30 years, from 40 million in 2010 to 80 million in 2040, when one in five Americans will be 65 or older. Take a good look around – you’ll never again see as many younger people, proportionally, as you do today.
The overall U.S. population is projected to grow by 23%, or 71 million persons, over the same 30-year period in which the older population is expected to grow by 40 million. Seniors will account for 55% of overall population growth nationwide. Figure 1 below breaks down the U.S. population into five broad age groups as enumerated in 2010, and projected for 2020, 2030, and 2040. Modest growth is anticipated for all age groups with the exception of 65-and-over, which is expected to grow by 98%.
Figure 1. United States population in five broad age groups, 2010 to 2040
Drilling down from the national to the regional level, it’s necessary to consult three separate sources, since state and county population projections are the responsibility of state agencies or university partners in each state. Ohio’s projections are produced by the state’s Development Services Agency, while Kentucky and Indiana rely on demographers at the University of Louisville and Indiana University, respectively. The final results from any set of projections are driven by assumptions about the future course of the three components of population change: fertility (births), mortality (deaths), and migration (people moving in and out of the area). With three distinct sources, there’s likely to be little consistency regarding assumptions. This may complicate comparisons across the individual counties that make up the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), as one source may be more or less bullish on growth than the others.
Focusing on the largest counties in the MSA, I gathered projections by age for the following seven counties: Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren in Ohio, plus the northern Kentucky trio of Boone, Campbell, and Kenton. Using an old term phased out a couple of decades ago, I’ll refer to this aggregation of counties as the Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA 7) throughout the rest of this blog. Figure 2 presents the enumerated and projected age distribution for the Cincinnati PMSA at four time points. While national population growth between 2010 and 2040 is projected at 23%, the PMSA population is only expected to increase by half that much ‑ 11%, expanding from 1.95 million in 2010 to 2.16 million in 2040. Virtually no change is expected in our region over the next three decades in the population under age 65. The bulk of projected population growth will come from the oldest age group, 65 and over.
Figure 2. Cincinnati 7-county PMSA population in five broad age groups, 2010 to 2040
The concentration of regional population growth in the older ages is further emphasized in Figure 3, which depicts projected 2010-2040 population change, overall and 65-plus, for the PMSA and its seven component counties. Eighty percent of anticipated growth in the total population will come at ages 65 and over. The remainder growth of 42,000 people that is projected for the PMSA over a 30-year period could be seated in Great American Ballpark.
The individual counties are ranked by projected growth in total population, with Boone County the clear leader. Two metro counties – Campbell and Hamilton – are projected to experience a decline in total population between 2010 and 2040, while continuing to add older residents. Hamilton County, the region’s urbanized core, is expected to lose approximately 54,000 residents under age 65 while gaining 38,000 older residents, for a net loss of 16,000. All seven counties will age rapidly.
Figure 3. Projected 2010-2040 population change by county, Cincinnati PMSA
Figure 4 below provides a somewhat different view of the same projections, portraying percent change from 2010 to 2040 in the total and older population. Again the counties are rank-ordered by total change. Percent change at the older ages far outstrips total change for the region and each individual county. Boone County can expect comparatively spectacular growth as its older population quadruples over the next three decades while the total population increases by 89%. Neighboring Campbell County, on the other hand, is projected to shrink by 3% overall while aging rapidly, as its older resident population increases by 56%.
Figure 4. Projected 2010-2040 percent population change by county, Cincinnati PMSA
The trends outlined above are unprecedented in American history and should concern everyone in this country. Will we have enough workers to support the older generation, and where will they come from? How will suburban areas like Boone County and Warren County, which have traditionally served young families, make the transformation to serve a range of household types, including large numbers of older people living alone? Is it time to reconsider our notions of retirement? Creative and courageous solutions are sought.