Persons aged 65 years old or older account for approximately 12 percent of the American population. The average life span in the United States has increased from an expected 70 years in the mid-1960s to 78 years today. The expected life span for women is greater than that for men. Although the expected life span applies to individuals born in the year for which the statistic is determined∑not for those individuals already in their elderly years, life expectancy increases have been projected for all age groups∑including the elderly (Hunter, 1995, p. 1271).
While the 65 years old and over group is the fastest growing segment of the overall American population, the 75 years old and over group is the fastest growing segment among those aged 65 years or older. Prior to the 1970s, the 75 years old and over segment of the population was too small to merit much attention as a separate population segment. In the mid-1990s, however, this segment of the population merits a great deal of special attention (Hunter, 1995, p. 1271).
Through the 1990s, the elderly population segment will not be as large as it will at a later time. Although the elderly segment is the fastest growing in the American population, this phenomena is occurring solely because of increased life spans. Constraining growth in this population segment at the present time is the low birth rate in the United States that prevailed in the 1930s∑the "Great Depression." Near the end of th