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A portrait of D.C.’s older adults

June 22, 2018
  • Guest Contributor

D.C. has a reputation as a relatively young city; TIME magazine even recently declared that it the District is approaching “peak Millennial.” It is true that D.C. has a proportionally larger young population than the country as a whole—nearly 12 percent of D.C.’s population in 2016 was between 25 and 29 years old, compared to about 7 percent in the U.S. overall (below), and the median age in D.C. is 33.9, compared with 37.9 nationally.

The influx of young residents over the past decade has driven the city’s population growth and had a dramatic impact on many neighborhoods. But while the presence and influence of Millennials in the District is undeniable, D.C. is also home to a sizeable population of older adults who do not receive as much attention in the press.

The population of older adults is booming nationally, and is growing in D.C. as well, albeit less dramatically This group is often of particular interest to policymakers; many have specific needs, like limited mobility, that may require special services; they are more likely to be on fixed incomes, which can make them particularly susceptible to rising housing prices in some circumstances; and they may be especially vulnerable to other concerns, such as financial abuse. And the District has many policies and programs targeted toward addressing the needs of this age group, which will have a long-term impact on D.C.’s development and budget. And just like the rest of D.C.’s residents, the District’s older adults as a group are very diverse in terms of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.


Where do D.C.’s older adults live?

D.C.’s older adults live everywhere in the city (left), but several areas of the District stand out as having higher proportions of older residents (right), particularly in neighborhoods farther from the city center. The five-year American Community Survey data behind this map shows the largest relative concentration of residents ages 65 and older in the census tract containing the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

How is the population of older adults in D.C. changing?

As of 2016, the size of D.C.’s older adult population (defined here as those 65 and older) was 79,016, or 11.6 percent of the District’s total population.

The national narrative surrounding older adults centers on a rapidly growing and aging population. The number of adults 65 and older in the U.S. has risen from about 38 million in 2009 to 46 million in 2016, and is projected to rise to over 98 million by 2060. The size of the older adult population has also increased in D.C., growing from 62,392 in 2005 to 79,016 in 2016, or a 27 percent increase in 11 years. While that’s much slower than the roughly 45 percent growth rate in the US population during the same time period, it is still a sizeable increase.

Overall, the growth of the aging population is being outpaced by growth in younger categories, particularly the 30-44 year-old demographic. Yet, within the 65 and older age category, some smaller age groups are growing, particularly the 65-59 year-olds. The biggest declines are observed in the oldest age categories above age 75.

Who are D.C.’s older adults?

While D.C.’s population of older adults is by no means a monolith, in broad strokes, the profile of older adults in D.C. differs significantly from the total population along several measures. First, according to data from the 2016 American Community Survey, 59.0 percent of D.C.’s older adults are female, compared with 52.5 percent of the total D.C. population. This is a difference that is also seen nationally: 55.8 percent of adults over 65 are female nationwide.

Second, while the proportion of older adults who are black has decreased in recent years, from 63.8 percent in 2009 to 58.4 percent in 2016, black residents still make up a higher share of this age group than the overall D.C. population (47.1 percent.) This is in contrast to the national picture, where 9.1 percent of older adults are black, compared to 12.7 percent of the total population.

Older adults are less likely to have a college degree than the overall D.C. population (41.9 percent versus 56.8 percent). While gap partially mirrors the national trend towards higher levels of education among younger age groups, this is actually much higher than the portion of older adults with a college degree nationwide (26.7 percent).

In terms of income, 13.4 percent of older adults in D.C. ages 65 and older are below the Federal Poverty Line, compared to just 9.2 percent nationally. Three-quarters of older adults in D.C. receive Social Security almost half receive retirement income, 15 percent receive food stamps (SNAP benefits), and 8 percent receive Supplemental Security Income.

American Community Survey data shows that 42 percent of older adults reported earnings in the past year, with an average annual earned income of $93,926 (not including Social Security, retirement income, or other types of income or benefits). However, this average masks the wide variation in income levels for older adults. Instead, we can see the distribution of incomes by looking at individual income and tax data for D.C. for ages 60 and older (below). Here, we can see that the median annual income for tax filers ages 60 and older is between $50,000 to $75,000, with about a quarter reporting earnings of less than $25,000 and one in eight earning at least $200,000 per year.


Finally, while there are many multi-generational households in the District, as a group, older adults are more likely than the general population to reside in a non-family household living alone (58.1 percent versus 43.8 percent). Nationally, a smaller portion of older adults (42.6 percent) lives alone in a non-family household, although this percentage has been declining in recent years.

Furthermore, 92.4 percent live in the same house they did one year ago, compared with 80 percent of all D.C. residents and 93 percent of older adults nationwide. The majority (58.6 percent) of older adults in D.C. live in an owner-occupied housing unit, compared with 39.2 percent of all D.C. adults, while nationally, 77.9 percent of older adults live in owner-occupied housing units. Among homeowners, 31.3 percent of older adults say their housing-related costs exceed 30 percent of their income, while 22.8 percent of all homeowners in D.C. say the same. Among renters, about 53.5 percent of older adults say their gross rent is at least 30 percent of their annual household income (median monthly rent $787), compared with 45.5 percent of all adults in D.C. (median monthly rent $1,376).

Other characteristics of older adults in D.C.:

  • 34.0 percent of older adults in D.C. are living with a disability, compared to 11.3 percent of the total D.C. population and 35.2 percent of older adults nationwide.
  • 24.4 percent are still in the labor force (up from 22.6 percent in 2009), well above the 17.6 percent of older adults who are in the labor force nationally.
  • 14.8 percent of older adults in D.C. are civilian veterans, compared to 4.7 percent of the total D.C. population and 18.8 percent of older adults nationwide.


About the data

Unless otherwise noted, statistics and charts refer to American Community Survey 2016 1-year estimates:



Ellen Squires currently works for a safety net hospital system doing population health analytics, and has worked previously in Medicaid policy and global health. Ellen holds an MPH from the University of Washington in global health, and undergraduate degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies from St. Olaf College.