Posted September 1st, 2005

The Aging of America

The average American in 2005 is a relatively young 37 years of age. Over the next 25 years, however, Americans are likely to have a few more gray hairs. In fact, by 2030 almost one-third of all Americans will be age 55 or over. Those 65 and older will number over 70 million—a full 20% of all Americans.

To give some perspective, these figures are almost double the present numbers. Currently, about 66 million Americans are 55 and older. By 2030, that number will skyrocket to 107.6 million. The number of those 65 and older will also almost double, from 36.4 million today to 71 million in 2030.

Studying Boomer demographics

Baby Boomers are likely to enjoy a high standard of living in their retirement years with more education, longer life expectancies, and higher income than previous generations. In addition, surveys show that Boomers plan to make an impact well into their retirement years by remaining active in careers and volunteer work.

Their long life expectancy should enable Boomers to remain influential well into the future. In 1960, just 14% of those who reached 65 could expect to live to age 90. By 2050, that number is expected to jump to 40%.

Many may even reach the age of 100. Currently, over 96,000 Americans (77,000 of them female) can count themselves in this special group—30,000 more than just five years ago. It is projected that the number of centenarians will jump to over 210,000 in 2020 and to over 830,000 by 2050.

The third age

Many retirees and pre-retirees see their later years as a “third age”—something past middle age but not quite old age. Bucking the traditional view of retirement, most want to re-main active in this stage of life, pursuing new challenges and remaining useful.

While some will keep working for financial reasons, most retirees cite a desire to remain physically and mentally active, to feel productive, or to help others. Many delve into volunteer work, but some only if asked. According to a recent survey, only 17% of those 55 and older will volunteer without being asked. However, when asked to help, 83% will volunteer.

What nonprofits should do

Nonprofits should do their best to get this emerging group of older donors involved. Charities should make it easy for constituents to volunteer their time and other talents or to feel engaged with the nonprofit’s mission in other ways. Those who volunteer are much more likely to give in other ways—and more substantially—as well.

Recognize that Boomers are more educated than the generation that preceded them. More Boomers attended college than any previous generation. For the first time in history, more than half of those age 70 to 74 in 2015 will have had the benefit of some college education. By comparison, that figure was less than one-third of the same age group just five years ago.

Boomer women especially are much more likely to have had a college education and work experience than their predecessors. They may require more sophisticated marketing materials to appeal to their varied experience.

Boomers are expected to have higher income levels than any previous generation, but their longer life expectancies may make them more hesitant to part with funds during their lifetime through outright gifts. When the time is right, consider making available information about charitable trusts, gift annuities, and other gifts that provide a reliable income stream for life. Many may find this option appealing in light of their increased life spans. And of course, continue to market gifts of bequests.

Others may find that they have more income than they need after their mandatory withdrawals from retirement accounts. Such donors may appreciate receiving materials about making gifts of funds from retirement accounts. See the May and July issues of Give & Take for more on marketing gifts to Baby Boomers and page 1 of this issue for more on appealing to various generations.

Americans are getting older, and the numbers are staggering. With a Boomer turning 50 every eight seconds, nonprofits have little time to lose.

Editor’s note: To learn more about how demographics will affect planned gifts now and in the future, attend one of Sharpe’s popular seminars. Visit www.sharpenet.com/seminars for more information.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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