Graying of America: Birth Rate, Death Rate & Life Expectancy

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  • 0:07 The Graying of America
  • 1:21 Birth Rate
  • 2:42 Death Rate
  • 3:43 Life Expectancy
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell

Erin has an M.Ed in adult education and a BS in psychology and a BS in management systems.

The 'graying of America' is an important aging trend studied by sociologists. In this lesson, we will discuss this phenomenon and three factors that contribute to it: birth rate, death rate, and life expectancy.

The Graying of America

How old do you think the average American is? Would it surprise you to learn that, according to the 2010 census, the median age is 37 years old? That means half of all Americans are over 37! A century ago, half of all Americans were under the age of 23!

The U.S. senior population was at 12 percent in 2000.
2000 US Senior Population

Every year, seniors make up a bigger percentage of the population and the average and median age continue to climb. In 1900, only 4% of the population had reached the age of 65. Fast-forward to the year 2000 and seniors represented about 12% of the population. By 2035, it's expected that more than 20% of the population will be over 65! This trend has come to be known as the 'graying of America,' and it's often attributed to three factors:

  1. Lower birth rates
  2. Lower death rates
  3. Increased life expectancy

Let's go over the details of each.

Birth Rate

One factor that contributes to our higher average age is the decrease in the national birth rate. Birth rate, or fertility rate, represents the number of births that occur in a population annually. It's usually expressed per 1,000 women of reproductive age. For example, the U.S. birth rate was at a record low in 2010, with 64 births per 1,000 women. Fewer babies mean that there continue to be fewer young people, which raises the national average age.

Our birth rate has been falling for decades. This is actually common for industrialized nations, for a number of reasons. In a pre-industrial society, having a large number of children is helpful - there are more hands to help with farming and cooking and so on.

In our modern society, having a large number of children is difficult because it can be hard to manage and financially support a large family. Beyond practicality, couples today also choose to have fewer children. It's not only easier to do with advances in birth control, but it's also more acceptable to have fewer children today.

Death Rate

Another factor that contributes to the graying of America is the decrease in the national death rate. Death rate, or mortality rate, represents the number of deaths that occur in a population annually. It's usually expressed per 1,000 people as well, but it includes both men and women. In 2010, our death rate was a record low of 7.4 deaths per 1,000 people.

Fewer deaths mean that people get a chance to live longer and become a part of the senior age group. For instance, the infant mortality rate is, thankfully, much lower than it used to be. Babies are more likely to survive and age to adulthood. Also, advances in medicine and technology have provided cures for adult disease and injuries that used to be fatal.

Life Expectancy

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