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Cultural Diversity - Lifelong Processes, Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Aleuts, And Eskimos, Asian And Pacific Islanders

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1

Cultural diversity, as it relates to aging, connotes variety among the older adult population in racial, gender, social, economic, religious, health, and other characteristics. The present discussion focuses primarily on the demographic characteristics of race, ethnicity, and national origin as they relate to selected aspects of the aging process. The U.S. Bureau of the Census recognizes four distinct race/ethnicity groups—whites, African Americans, Native Americans (including Eskimos and Aleuts), and Asian/Pacific Islanders—as well as one national origin group, Hispanics (whose members can be of any race). Unless otherwise noted, population statistics cited below come from Census Bureau sources.

Like the United States, other nations of the world have expanding older populations that are growing culturally more diverse. These trends challenge governments to provide all qualifying individuals with an income stream that is continuous and adequate, sustains purchasing power, and maintains the socioeconomic position of older, retired persons. This is certainly true for the more industrialized countries of the world, yet the greatest increases in the elderly population are occurring in less developed countries— many of which are less prepared and less able to address the needs of multiple racial and ethnic groups within their borders.

Within the United States, in 1980 non-Hispanic whites comprised 88 percent of all persons age sixty-five and older. By 2000, this percentage had dropped to 83.5 percent, and by 2050 it is expected that no more than 64.2 percent of the older adult population within the United States will be non-Hispanic whites.

These figures point to the increasing proportion of older adults who will come from minority populations. The largest gain is projected to occur among Hispanics. Currently estimated to number 1.9 million persons, by 2050 Hispanic older adults are expected to exceed 13 million. Minorities will constitute a larger proportion of the older population in the future because minorities have had higher fertility than whites and because a disproportionate number of immigrants have been members of minority populations.

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