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The Oldest Old - Gender Issues

age women population age hundred

The nexus of this issue is suggested by the sex ratio, or the number of men per one hundred women in a population. The oldest old are a largely female population—at present there are forty-three very old American men for every one hundred very old women, a level much lower than that found for the younger (persons sixty-five to eighty-four years of age) elderly—seventysix per one hundred—or among the entire population—ninety-six per hundred. Such a pattern, which would be characteristic of almost any national population, simply reflects the lifelong advantage women have with respect to mortality. Due to this mortality difference and the customary pattern of men marrying women a few years younger than themselves, the very old population is overwhelmingly composed of widows.

In countries such as the United States, where old-age pensions tend to be earnings based, and where women have only recently spent much of their adult life in the paid work force, the oldest old tend to fare relatively poorly from a financial perspective. Since a widow's pension income may diminish or disappear altogether, it is not surprising that nearly one in four very old women is impoverished, compared with less than one in six very old men, less than one in ten younger elderly, and about one in seven of all Americans.

Figure 1 Older Population by Age: 1900–2050 SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of the Census

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