Graying America: Cities that Are Ageing the Fastest

When it comes to demographics, the US has long been seen as a star performer among the developed countries. Although, like the rest of the world, the US is getting older, it is in a far better situation than many other advanced economies, particularly Western Europe and Japan. However, despite the relatively healthy national statistics, some of the America’s regions and cities are approaching a demographic crisis, with the size of their 65+ cohorts growing four to five times as fast as their working age populations.

In 2014, share of elderly population in the US was 14%. For comparison, the same figure in France was 18%, in Germany – 21%, in Japan – whooping 26%. The average for all developed countries that year was 18%. Hence, largely as a result of higher fertility rates and immigration, America’s population, while ageing, is nonetheless distinctly younger than other countries of similar development level.

Ageing most prevalent in southern cities, but not only

The demographic situation in the US, however, is not uniform across the country – some cities are considerably grayer than others. The highest overall concentrations of seniors are found in the South: in particular in states of Florida and Arizona, both popular American retirement destinations mainly due to their warm climate all year round. Some of the smaller cities are effectively retirement villages already. For example, in Punta Gorda city in Florida, senior population comprised 37% of the total in 2014. Very similar demographic makeup, both in absolute and relative terms, was recorded in Homosassa Springs, where one out of three residents was above the age of 65.

While large senior populations in Florida and Arizona are not that surprising given the retirement trends within the US, rapid . City of Los Angeles in California in particular saw a massive intake of elderly residents in relative, as well as absolute terms since 2009. Its 65+ population increased by more than 544,000, or 40% in the last five years, and came close to 1.9 million at the end of 2014. Similar trends were seen in Houston and Washington. Even the New York metropolitan area, usually associated with the culture of ‘young and restless’, is getting older. In 2014, 14% of the city population was above 65, and the total number of its senior residents grew by 356,000, or 14% since 2009.

Table 1. Fastest ageing big cities in the US, 2009-2014

Total population 65+ population 65+ as proportion of total population 65+ population increase since 2009
Los Angeles 13,214,186 1,901,792 14% 40%
Houston 6,398,627 661,373 10% 37%
Washington 6,020,062 732,042 12% 36%
Austin 1,903,212 172,145 9% 30%
Raleigh 1,226,786 123,022 10% 27%
San Francisco 4,562,616 661,995 15% 25%
Denver 2,734,509 305,943 11% 24%
Dallas 6,867,608 681,240 10% 24%
Atlanta 5,580,735 564,060 10% 23%
Orlando 2,301,015 313,512 14% 22%

Source: Euromonitor International
Note: Cities with the population of one million or above

Ageing population and the economy

There is no denying it: America is getting older. Every single one of the 350 cities and metropolitan areas reviewed in this analysis experienced an increase in their 65+ population in 2009-2014: both in absolute size, and as proportion of the total population.

In many of the nation’s biggest cities – including New York, Boston and San Francisco – close to 20% of the population will be over 65 years of age by 2030, placing increasing economic burden on public programs, in particular healthcare, but also transportation and social security, among others.

Arguably, bigger problem than the growth in the elderly population per se is the slow projected growth in the working age population. For cities, this means not only relatively fewer people to pay the taxes and provide services to support the older population, but also less investment in the area once labour (and skill) shortages begin to show. While some aging metropolitan areas might be able to shrug off these effects, by attracting immigrants and newcomers from other parts of the country, many will struggle to reinvent themselves and become attractive to young families again. After all, city ageing trend is one of self-reinforcing nature: lower share of working age population results in less investment, which, in turn, makes the city less attractive to young individuals. Such dynamic is already evident in former robust manufacturing hubs like Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit, and is unlikely to stop there.

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