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Senior Centers

Characteristics Of Senior Center Participants

An extremely important question is simple: Who participates in senior centers? The answer of who uses and benefits from senior centers has considerable policy and funding implications. As usual, generalizations are risky because most senior centers draw their users from a fairly limited geographic area and have user populations that reflect those areas. Centers located in minority communities will have largely minority users, while those in largely white suburbs will have mostly white, middle-income users. Krout’s longitudinal study found the following averages for participant characteristics in 1989: 11 percent under sixty-five; 41 percent between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-four; 37 percent aged seventy-five to eighty-four; and 10 percent age eighty-five and over. Three-quarters were female and 71 percent unmarried, and 85 percent were reported to be white. Slightly more than one-quarter reported incomes of less than $5,000, 36 percent from $5,000 to $9,999 and 37 percent more than $10,000 (Krout, 1994b).

Several studies conducted in New York in the 1990s report some similar findings, but also illustrate the great diversity among senior center users. While similar in terms of age and gender, senior centers in upstate New York surveyed in 1995 reported higher percentages of whites and higher incomes (Krout, 1996b) than reported for a 1999 sample of New York City participants (Berman).

Krout’s national research also provides some insight into changes experienced by senior centers in the 1980s that likely continued in the 1990s. Fifty six percent of center directors surveyed said the age of participants had gotten older on average and only 14 percent said it had gotten younger, suggesting the aging ‘‘cohort’’ of current senior center users is not being replaced by the ‘‘young-old.’’ Respondents were about equally split when it came to changes in the health of participants. Three out of ten indicated the health had decreased while 27 percent said it had increased. Almost 60 percent reported an increase in the number of participants categorized as frail while only 12 percent indicated a decrease in that number. Almost three-quarters noted no change in the percentage of participants that were non-white.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Senior Centers - Focal Points, Awareness And Utilization, Programs And Activities, Characteristics Of Senior Center Participants, Programming For The Frail