Is 65 the Best Cutoff for Defining “Older Americans?”

Marilyn Moon, Jing Guo, and V. Eloesa McSorley

Baby Boomers are aging and the Congress is changing; public policy issues on aging have never been more important. Do the issues that define “old age” really begin at 65? Although Americans are living longer, other changes in health status and workforce behavior could be used to argue that age 65 is too late to begin to worry about the challenges of an aging population.

Older people in a classroomTwo key areas of concern when considering age from a policy perspective are the health and economic status (including labor force behavior) of older individuals. These variables affect not only the well-being of older Americans but the pocketbooks of American taxpayers. If age for program eligibility can be increased without harming older Americans, billions of dollars in government spending could potentially be saved.

In an effort to enlighten this debate, the Center on Aging developed this brief, in which AIR researchers explore data on income, resources, health, and family structure to look at how well age 65 captures a good cutoff for eligibility for programs and for discussing issues facing older Americans.