Senior Living Braces as Number of ‘Adult Children’ Per Resident Falls

This coverage of the 2016 National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Fall Conference is brought to you by Mainstreet. As the nation’s largest developer of transitional care properties, Mainstreet specializes in real estate development, value investments and health care. With Mainstreet’s support, SHN is bringing live event coverage of the NIC conference, which draws developers, providers and operators within the post-acute and preventative health care services space.

From a senior care standpoint, the 9.6 million Americans who are currently 82 years old or older have it pretty good. After all, with about seven “adult children” for every one person over 80 years old, seniors have plenty of people looking out for them. But when the baby boomers’ time comes to receive care, they won’t be as lucky.

In fact, the impending caregiver shortage means the senior living industry may soon need to enter into crisis mode, according to the chief economist at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).


“There simply are fewer children who are caregivers to take care of their elder parents,” Beth Mace said during a Sept. 15 session at the NIC Fall Conference in Washington, D.C. “It’s going to be a social crisis that really has to be addressed. Who’s going to take care of the aging population within the U.S.?”

The gap between the number of American seniors and the number of “adult children” who look after them is expected to narrow dramatically in the coming years. Today, there are about 7 people between 45 and 64 years old for every one person who is over 80 years old, Mace said. By 2030, that ratio is going to change from 7 to 1 to 4 to 1. By 2050, the ratio will be 3 to 1.

The sheer size of the baby boomer generation ensures a larger group of seniors will soon burst onto the scene. They’ll also be living longer than previous generations, Mace explained, which comes with its own complicating factors.


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In 2010, there were about 53,000 people who lived to 100. That number is projected to grow to 3.2 million by 2050, Mace said. Consequently, senior housing industry needs to think about how it is going to take care of a larger group of people who are living longer than ever before.

“Often, longer and older means more diseases and more co-morbidities to take care of as well,” Mace said.

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Meanwhile, the number of people between 75 and 81 years old in the United States is expected to steadily grow between 2016 and 2018, and then spike once more in 2022, Mace said, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is actually good news for independent living providers and post-acute care providers, as this population cohort is “their prime cohort, and there’s a lot of growth going on in that cohort,” Mace explained.

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Still, in the coming years, there will be fewer and fewer working-age Americans to support America’s aging seniors, Mace said. The ratio of Americans over 65 years old to those who are working-age, or between 24 and 64 years old, has been dropping since 1950, when there were about 7 working-age Americans for every American over 65. In 2010, there were about 4.59 working-age Americans for every American over 65, and in 2050, there are expected to be only 2.53 working-age Americans for every American over 65.

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The decline is more dramatic in Japan, where the ratio went from nearly 10 working-age people for every person over 65 in 1950, to a projected 1.27 working-age people for every person over 65 in 2050, Mace noted.

These figures are daunting for the U.S. economy, Mace said, as they may negatively impact the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Still, there are things that can be done to counteract the drop in number of working-age Americans.

“I think we’re going to start to see a greater emphasis on people retiring later, a greater emphasis on doing a second career after you retire, a greater emphasis on the social good of working longer and being part of society,” Mace said. “I think that the narrative around retirement will start to change in this country.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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