The Older Adult Population: Characteristics & How They Can Change

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  • 0:05 Characteristics
  • 2:20 Changes
  • 4:39 Lifetime
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson looks at some of the differences between the world of the 1920s and the world today. We'll look at things like the average number of children per family, the average length and quality of life, and the maximum human life span.


My great-grandfather was 95 when he passed away, and I would often sit and wonder what his life had been like. Today, we live in a world of hyper-connectivity. My phone and laptop have more power in them than every machine combined before 1970. This lesson will be an exploration of what his life was like in the 1920s, about when he was born. After we look at how things were in the past, we will look at what's happening today and maybe a little bit into the future.

In the 20s, we began to see the booming economy. Items were made for convenience; vacuum cleaners and washing machines became more common. This was the first time purchasing large items on credit, or paying off a borrowed sum over time, became very popular. I am including the term credit, not because you're not familiar with it, but because it was new, and this meant the family of a mother, father, and two to three children had more than ever before.

Furthermore, in 1920s, about 21% of the workforce was women, and they were employed in various positions, including, but not limited to, secretarial and manufacturing positions. People 19 and under made up 40.7% of the population, people between 20 and 64 made up 54.5%, and those 65 and over made up only 4.7% of the population in 1920. This may have been due to a life expectancy of about 54 years old for men and women.

<19 40.7%
20-64 54.5%
65+ 4.7%

The life of my great grandfather's parents, or my great, great grandparents would have been increasingly leisurely. With the advent of credit, they could buy larger luxury goods, such as a car, a vacuum cleaner, and a clothes washing machine. With the popularization of various forms of birth control, they would only have had two to three kids. They would expect to live to an old age of about 54.


This seems pretty good, I guess. But only having 1920s data isn't very exciting. We need to look at what it is like now in order to compare. So, what's life like now?

Currently, a family has on average about two children per family. This may seem fairly similar, but when you start thinking about 10 million families having two kids versus two or three (say 2.5), then that's a difference of about five million children. So, comparing only family size, the amount of people per family unit is slightly smaller. The economic structure of the workforce has also shifted. In the 1920s, only 21% of the workforce was women; in 2010, 47% of the workforce was women. This means that more women are working, bringing in more income to support the family.

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