We’re all getting older. It’s the one thing that every single person alive right now has in common. But we’re also getting older as a population, with Americans both living longer and having fewer children. Census projections show a major demographic shift already underway and accelerating in the years to come.
At the same time, populations are not aging evenly, and issues related to aging will impact individual communities in vastly different ways, boosting economic opportunity in some areas while putting a strain on social services in others.
For instance, real estate developers that invest in progressive senior housing projects now could benefit down the road as demand for modern facilities that cater to active seniors grows. Similarly, American tech companies will see opportunity in developing innovative high-tech solutions for senior care, such as health-monitoring devices, ride-share services aimed at seniors, and care-bots. (Take a look at how Japan has embraced high-tech solutions for its aging population for more on how that might play out in the United States.)
On the flip side, social safety nets are likely to face increasing financial challenges with the continued retirement of America’s Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom will reach 67 by 2031. As that happens, rural counties—where people on average rely on Social Security as a larger portion of their overall income—may disproportionately feel the economic effects of aging.
One way to sort out who will be most impacted by aging is to look at age demographics across the country and how they will change over time. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and its own updated demographics, spatial-analytics firm Esri put together for Fast Company an exclusive map series that examines the issue from a number of angles, including a district-by-district breakdown of the median age in 2010 and the projected median age in 2023. The result is a compelling visual record of both who we are right now and where we are heading–a temporal snapshot for the ages, so to speak.
Some of trends are expected: For instance, states typically known to attract retirees—like Nevada and Florida—are expected to see noticeably larger percentages of people 65 and older in the years to come.
But having a larger proportion of older people doesn’t necessarily mean having an older population entirely. When we break down the median age among populations, comparing 2010 figures to projected data in 2023, we see a slightly different trend. The areas that are projected to see the most drastic increases in their median ages are concentrated in the upper Midwest, the Deep South, and especially northern New England. Economics often drives these trends, as more young people leave certain areas—in the Rust Belt, for instance—to seek opportunities elsewhere.
This suggests that states like Maine (where 411,000 residents were between 45 and 64 in 2012, versus only 302,000 under 20, as the Portland Press Herald reported) could have the most trouble replacing their aging workforces. It’s a problem that has prompted some city and state governments to offer financial incentives to encourage worker migration—like in Vermont, where workers can now get $10,000 over two years if they relocate to the state.
Maine’s population may be an outlier, but it’s by no means alone among the aging masses. Stunningly, by 2023, only nine counties in the United States are expected to have a median age younger than what they had in 2010. It’s another example of how issues related to aging will become increasingly pressing, and dealing with them as a country has never been more urgent. We’re not getting any younger, and public policy and business practices need to catch up.