Aging research findings

Increased longevity, the large baby boomer population and declining birth rates are producing a unique shift in the age structure of the population. This unprecedented shift is happening at all geographic levels and is anticipated to have wide-reaching effects - especially as the changes occur against a backdrop of rapid technological change, uncertainties in the broader economy, climate change, cultural changes between generations, and shrinking government resources. Hennepin County is working to understand how these changing age demographics will affect the county as a service provider, as a geographic and economic region and as a local government agency.

Through reviews of recent research, analysis of current local data and focus groups with county residents, the Hennepin County Aging Initiative aims to help county leaders and stakeholders understand these changes and respond with effective public policy. The Hennepin County Research, Planning and Development Department has created this page to share information compiled by its research analysts and to provide links to valuable information about this important change in our population.

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Aging and the workforce

Key findings

  • In Hennepin County, the baby boom generation has provided a major portion of workers over the past 30 years. Successive generations have been smaller. As the baby boomers retire over the next 20 years, retirement rates will increase and labor force growth will slow.
  • Over the long-term, workers have increasingly delayed retirement. There are many reasons for this trend, including the increasing Social Security full retirement age, replacement of defined benefit pension plans with defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s, less-physically demanding jobs and the emergence trends such as phased retirement options and encore careers.
  • During the recession, there has been an increase in early retirement. Unexpected late-career unemployment has forced more workers into early application for Social Security benefits, counteracting the long-term trend in the short-term.
  • Age 62 has long been an important retirement age, while age 65 has decreased in importance.
  • The Hennepin County Government workforce is much older than the wider county workforce, meaning that increases in retirement rates are likely to affect Hennepin County government before the rest of the labor market.
  • While the retirement of the baby boom generation will slow labor force growth, a labor shortage is unlikely in Hennepin County. The real danger of slower labor force growth is not too few workers, but rather, a sluggish economy.
  • Most studies indicate that individual worker productivity peaks sometime between age 30 and 50, with late-career workers being both more productive and less cost-effective than the youngest workers. There is, however, some disagreement about whether an older workforce in fact makes a firm less productive.
  • There is evidence that age discrimination takes place throughout the workforce. At the same time, some research suggests that age discrimination legislation has, in fact, decreased hiring among older workers.
  • Workers who lose their job late in their careers have few good options. Their two main options, searching for a job and retiring, both result in significant income losses compared with continued employment.

Reports

Residents' views on aging: focus group findings

Hennepin County Research, Planning and Development contracted with experienced researchers to complete two focus group projects examining Hennepin County baby baby boomers' thoughts about aging and their plans over the next 15 years. One project focused on residents’ views on aging and health, retirement and finances, transportation and other services. A second project focused solely on the housing preferences of baby baby boomers as they age.

Altogether, a diverse group of 179 county residents between the ages of 55 and 65 - representing leading edge and middle baby boomers - took part in 22 community-based focus groups. Participants included individuals of different races and ethnicities, recent immigrants, people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, caregivers, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community and single women. Housing focus group participants included homeowners and renters from urban, suburban and exurban areas of the county.

Key findings

  • Economic circumstances have forced many focus group participants to abandon thoughts of early, or even traditional, retirement. They want and need to work.
  • Financial insecurity is pervasive, with participants deeply concerned about their current financial well-being and worried, even fearful, about the next 15 years.
  • Baby boomers are concerned about the continued availability of Medicare and Social Security, the solvency of pension funds and increased health care costs - particularly the cost of health insurance. Participants from all income levels reported having to make some lifestyle adjustments and many are just meeting basic expenses. Some participants have deferred or delayed health care due to cost. Homeowners find their homes no longer provide retirement savings. Those for whom Social Security is or will be their principal source of income are especially concerned about possible benefit cuts.
  • Recent immigrants fear their children will not be able to care for them as they age and most are not eligible to receive traditional Social Security benefits.
  • Participants rely heavily on their cars for transportation. Barriers to using public transportation include a lack of service in the suburbs, transfer time, safety concerns, and reduced nighttime buses. Those who make regular use of public transit, particularly buses, complain about safety, inadequate bus shelters and high costs.
  • Most housing focus group participants expect to remain in Hennepin County, generally in their current neighborhood, but many have concerns about affordability, isolation, and access to public transportation, retail shops, and services. Senior housing has negative connotations and is viewed as isolating and expensive. Some baby boomers have concerns about the social environment and the potential for abuse with concentrations of older, failing residents.
  • Many baby boomers feel that searching for and evaluating housing options is overwhelming and would like more unbiased information, along with efficient coordinated access and intake processes to aid their own search for housing, as well as to assist parents in finding housing and services.
  • Most participants rate their neighborhoods as reasonably safe but say more could be done to promote emergency preparedness and to educate baby boomers about how to prevent identity theft, how to report neglect or abuse, and about the importance of making legal arrangements prior to a crisis or emergency.
  • Overall, participants expect the county to maintain core services, including public safety. Some strongly believe the county should play a significant role in providing accessible information about wellness, health insurance and social services; in promoting the development of affordable, livable housing close to transportation and services; and in encouraging employment options for older workers. Others suggest that county services are too expansive, fueling an unsupportable rise in property taxes. Participants want the county to be aware of the ways property taxes affect seniors and hope the county will continue to listen to and draw on the talent and experience of this generation in seeking solutions to issues.
  • Healthy, active and with much to contribute, baby boomers recognize that their well being depends a good deal on their own behavior and most engage in some form of physical activity.

Full reports

Report sections

Health and aging framework

The health, wellness, and aging literature provides a foundation for understanding the health and well-being of a growing aging population. Research identifies four primary health factors—healthy behaviors, medical care, social determinants of health, and the physical environment— that influence an individual’s ability to maintain optimal physical, mental, and social functioning during the aging process.

Health and aging outcomes

Research highlights: Health and aging outcomes summarizes findings from the literature about the current health status of adults 65 and older, as well as trends and projections for the health status of the baby boomer population.

  • The age of aging?
  • Five common experiences of aging
  • Life expectancy
  • Leading causes of death
  • Primary chronic conditions
    • Summary findings: Chronic conditions affecting adults older than 65
  • Disability
  • Mental illness
  • Frailty
  • Falls

Research highlights: Health and aging outcomes (PDF) 

Healthy behaviors

Growing evidence demonstrates that healthy behaviors can improve an individual’s physical, mental, and social health, even as they age.

Research highlights: Healthy behaviors and aging explores findings from the literature about the primary healthy behaviors that support aging well—the preservation and maintenance of physical, mental, and social functioning.

  • Prevention for older adults
  • Physical activity
  • Nutrition
  • Tobacco, alcohol & illicit drug use
  • Sexual health

Research highlights: Healthy behaviors and aging (PDF)

Medical care

Medical care is critical for aging well. Medical system issues, such as cost and access to care, impact an individual’s ability to age successfully.

Research highlights: Medical care and aging reviews general trends and challenges in medical care service delivery for the elderly.

  • Medicare and Medicaid overview
  • Medical service delivery
    • Rising healthcare costs
    • Affordable Care Act
    • Technology
    • Geriatric workforce shortage
    • Comprehensive care model
    • Health care literacy
  • Long-term care

Research high (PDF 2mb)

Social determinants of health and aging

Complex interactions between an individual's genetics, environment, healthy behaviors and the social conditions in which they live and work determine an individual's health.

Research highlights: Social factors and healthy aging describes social factors that intersect with health and aging well, such as education, income and race.

  • Individual factors
  • Community factors
  • System factors

Research highlights Social factors and healthy aging (PDF)

Environment and aging

Clean air and safe, walkable neighborhoods can support successful aging by promoting independent living, physical activity and social connection, and providing access to nutritious foods.

Older adults' transportation and mobility

Key findings

  • Overall, people age 65 and older make 90 percent of their trips by car and more than 65 percent of those trips as drivers.
  • Walking is the second most frequent means of getting around, making up 4 to 9 percent of all trips taken by older adults.
  • Public transportation is used for about 1 to 2 percent of all trips taken by older adults. However, 1-in-10 older adults use public transit at least once a month.
  • About 80 percent of adults age 65 and older in Hennepin County are licensed to drive.
  • Men and women age 65 and older have increased their average number of miles driven each year since the 1970s. As they age, baby boomers are expected to continue to drive more miles each year than previous generations of older adults.
  • Older drivers are over-represented in intersection and multiple vehicle crashes. Enhanced nighttime lighting, larger traffic signs and signals, and raised concrete guides at turns can make driving easier for older adults.
  • About 1-in-5 adults age 65 and older do not drive. Based on life expectancy, men will need alternate sources of transportation for about seven years and women for about 10 years after they stop driving.
  • Despite being more cautious pedestrians, older adults are twice as likely to be killed as pedestrians as members of the population as a whole. Re-evaluating standard crossing intervals, improving pedestrian access to desired destinations and addressing other problems that make waking difficult can help ensure older adults can safely walk to places they want to go.

Report

Research highlights: Older adults' transportation and mobility (PDF)

Successful aging and the built and physical environments

Clean air, accessible housing, and safe, walkable neighborhoods can support successful aging by promoting independent living, physical activity and social connection, and by facilitating access to nutritious foods. Conversely, busy streets, inaccessible housing, long distances between destinations and other conditions in the built environment can impair mobility or worsen the functional limitations arising from a health condition or disability.

Key findings

  • Older adults are more vulnerable to environmental characteristics like air pollution and extreme weather because of the natural aging process, their greater likelihood of having chronic illnesses or other health conditions, and their use of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Characteristics of the built environment can exacerbate the mobility challenges of older adults or conversely, facilitate successful aging by making it easier for older adults to get around independently regardless of age, functional status, or disability.
  • Most baby boomers and current older adults live in the suburbs, communities that were designed for automobile traffic and have structural design features that may make it difficult for older adults to meet their daily needs independently.
  • Walking and other physical activity are key factors in successful aging but are highly influenced by characteristics of the built and physical environments.
  • The cost of retrofitting the existing built environment to accommodate the needs of aging baby boomers is expensive. Communities may face considerable challenges in improving the built environment to enable older adults to age in place.
  • Communities retrofitting existing aspects of the built environment must balance the preference for locating housing for older adults close to desirable destinations with the need to shield older adults from exposure to air pollution.

Report

Research highlights: Successful Aging and the Built and Physical Environments (PDF) 

Safety and protection: elder abuse and neglect

Key findings

More than 11 percent of adults age 60 years and older responding to the 2009 National Elder Mistreatment Study said they had experienced physical, emotional, sexual abuse or potential neglect in the past year.

  • The number of reports to adult protective service (APS) agencies has risen from 117,000 reports in 1986 to 381,430 in 2003. Reports of financial exploitation and neglect are playing a central role in the growing number of calls to APS agencies.
  • According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), APS investigations may increase 28 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, based on projected population growth among older adults.
  • Hennepin County's Common Entry Point for Adult Protective Services received about 2,100 reports of abuse and neglect in 2000 but more than 4,300 in 2011.
  • Various studies have found that children, spouses or partners, and other relatives are the perpetrators in somewhere between 4-in-10 to more than two-thirds of all elder abuse and neglect events.
  • Physically and cognitively impaired older adults and those experiencing mental health problems may be at greater risk of mistreatment.
  • Social support plays a key role in protecting older adults and reducing their risk of almost all forms of elder abuse and neglect.

Report

Research highlights: Elder abuse and neglect (PDF)

Aging, economic security and public finances

Key findings

  • Social Security is by far the most valuable retirement asset for most households, especially for those at the bottom of the wealth distribution and housing is second most valuable. Stock-related assets, including IRAs and 401(k)s, form a relatively small part of retirement assets for all but the wealthiest households.
  • Retirees do not spend down many retirement assets during the first five to 10 years of retirement. Reserve assets and housing are typically saved as a hedge against emergencies, such as a health-shock in late life, or as a bequest to heirs.
  • The stock market crash of 2008-2009 had the strongest effect on wealthier, better-educated members of the near-retirement population – many will not recover lost stock and bond value. Younger workers could actually make money on the crash by continuing to invest in the market, provided values continue to appreciate sufficiently.
  • Recent studies suggest that massive devaluations in stocks, bonds and housing are unlikely. However, there appears to be some agreement that the retirement of the baby boom generation will increase demand for less risky assets such as bonds.
  • Income decreases far faster than consumption at retirement. Consumption declines slightly at retirement for the typical household, largely owed to declines in food-related spending.
  • Health care costs begin to accelerate around age 55, tripling by age 75. Nearly a quarter of Hennepin County residents age 65 and older have trouble paying medical costs.
  • Single women, minorities, the late-career unemployed and those forced to retire early because of health issues are at greatest risk of financial insecurity in retirement.
  • Current 65 year olds have a 70 percent chance of needing long-term care and as many as a third of Minnesota baby boomers have no plans to pay for it.
  • The retirement of the baby boom generation will have the greatest effect on income tax revenue. Public expenditures per capita are far higher for retirees than for school-aged children.
  • Aging will likely decrease revenues available to Hennepin County as lower income and sales tax revenues at the state level may decrease intergovernmental transfers to the county. Furthermore, increasing numbers of retirees living on fixed incomes with increasing medical costs may make property tax increases less tenable.

Reports

Housing preferences as we age

Key findings

  • The number of households headed by single and married Minnesotans over age 55 is growing faster than all other types of households.
  • Most Hennepin baby boomers own single-family homes, especially in the suburbs where 82 percent of baby boomer households own their home.
  • As people age they are more likely to choose single-family homes over multi-family homes until they reach their 70s, when the preference for single-family homes begins to diminish. Racial and ethnic minorities, people born outside the U.S., and individuals with disabilities are more likely to choose multi-family housing over single-family houses at any given age and time.
  • Baby boomers strongly prefer to age in place. Few older residents move during the first years of retirement and those who do usually do not move very far.
  • Moves are often driven by age-related life events such as retirement, age-related health issues, or the illness or death of a spouse. Because baby boomers are still at different life course stages, age-related changes in housing will happen gradually.
  • Health conditions may prevent many baby boomers from aging in place, especially in single-family homes that are not accessible or easily adapted to meet the needs of persons with disabilities.
  • Just 5 percent of individuals over age 70 can expect to age in place without home modifications. Residents typically start needing to modify their homes around age 75, suggesting that demand for home modifications may increase rapidly around 2030, as the largest groups of baby boomers enter old age.
  • Household finances may make it difficult for baby boomers to age in place. A nationwide study found that property tax increases and higher utility costs made 61 to 70-year-olds more likely to move, while rising home equity made older home owners less likely to move. Many older homeowners lost large amounts of home equity during the recession reducing their resources for home modifications, in-home care and services, and moves.
  • There are societal benefits to aging in place. Community based services and home modifications are less costly than nursing homes, supportive services and hospitalization.
  • Inclusive, multi-generational community development models such as Communities for a Lifetime support a range of housing and mobility options that can accommodate the needs of both younger and older residents.

Reports

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