National Significance of Aging Population
Rising Proportion of Older People in Citizenry
Aging of its population and the widespread industrialization of its economy have been forcing the United States to pay increased heed to the problems of older people. Passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 signified acceptance of the fact that the traditional conception of this country as a young nation of young people had lost its validity. That act, in addition to setting up a system of unemployment compensation, gave federal recognition to the problems of older persons by making provisions for old-age insurance and old-age assistance.
Statistical records and projections clearly indicate that the problems of older people will demand more and more attention as the years pass. Between 1900 and 1940 the proportion of the population 45 years of age and older rose from one-sixth to more than one-fourth of the total. By the year 2000, moreover, persons in this age group are expected to comprise from one-third to perhaps nearly half of the population. The increase in the proportion of older people has been particularly marked in the group of persons past 65 years of age. They made up 4 per cent of the population in 1900 and 7 per cent in 1940 and may account for as much as 17 per cent of the total at the end of the century. Thus the United States is on the way to becoming, in a relatively short period, a nation of the mature and the aged.
The increase in the proportion of older persons has resulted in part from the development of means for controlling communicable diseases, which at the turn of the century caused the death of many infants and children. With the reduction in infant mortality, many more persons have lived to mature years. Other major factors in the aging of the population have been the declining birth rate and the virtual cessation of the immigration which prior to 1924 made substantial annual additions to the country's component of young people.