Differences Between Centenarians and
Senior Citizens Explored by Census Bureau
Women dominate both age groups, 100
plus less educated, more likely living in poverty
22, 2014 - Centenarians have lower education levels, are overwhelmingly
women and are more likely to live in poverty than the 65-and-older
population, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report. The report,
"The Centenarian Population: 2007-2011," analyzes characteristics of
centenarians and how they compare with those 65 years and older.
"Centenarians are a small group who
are a significant indicator of American life," said Brian Kincel, a
statistical analyst in the Census Bureau's Age and Special Populations
Branch and the report's author.
"By living a century or more, they
have seen great changes in the American landscape and their education
levels reflect social and economic conditions in the 1920s and earlier.
Today, their situations may vary based on many factors, and the
statistics in this report begin to tell their story."
The report, based on results from
the American Community Survey, compares social and economic differences
between the 55,000 centenarians in the U.S. and the 40 million people 65
Major findings from the report
• Of centenarians, 57 percent
received at least a high school diploma compared with 77 percent of the
• Women made up 81 percent of
centenarians and 57 percent of those 65 and older.
• 17 percent of centenarians
lived below the poverty line, and 9 percent of the 65-and-older
population were in poverty.
• Among women, 3 percent of
centenarians were married as opposed to 41 percent of women 65 and
older. Among men, 23 percent of centenarians were married compared with
71 percent of men 65 and older.
• Of centenarians, 83 percent
received Social Security income compared with 88 percent of the
• 24 percent of centenarians
received retirement income, while 38 percent of the 65-and-older
population received it.
the American Community Survey
The American Community Survey
provides a wide range of important statistics about all communities in
the country. The American Community Survey gives communities the current
information they need to plan investments and services. Retailers,
homebuilders, police departments, and town and city planners are among
the many private- and public-sector decision makers who count on these
Ever since Thomas Jefferson
directed the first census in 1790, the census has collected detailed
characteristics about our nation's people. Questions about jobs and the
economy were added 20 years later under James Madison,
who said such information would allow Congress to "adapt the public
measures to the particular circumstances of the community," and over the
decades allow America "an opportunity of marking the progress of the
This brief explores the social and economic
characteristics collected annually in the ACS to provide information on
the marital status, educational attainment, veteran status, income, and
poverty levels of centenarians. Since centenarians represent a rare
population, distinct from the rest of the older population in many ways,
they are compared to the 65 years and older population.
Centenarians, people 100 years or older, made up a
very small portion of the total population in the 2007–2011 ACS,
accounting for 55,000 people (0.02 percent).
By comparison, the 65 years and over population
accounted for 40 million people or 13 percent of the total population.
The majority of centenarians were female (81 percent).
Women were also the majority of the 65 years and
over population (57 percent). This disproportionately female
representation in both the 65 years and over and centenarian populations
was expected, since sex differences in mortality over time contribute to
higher percentages of females than males at older ages.
Most centenarians reported being widowed (82
percent). Another 6 percent of centenarians were married, 4 percent were
divorced, 0.4 percent were separated, and 7 percent were never married.
As expected, because of their younger age, the
percentage widowed of the 65 years and over population (29 percent) was
much smaller than that of the centenarian population. Over half of the
65 years and over population were married (54 percent). The percentage
divorced of the 65 years and over population (11 percent) was more than
double the percentage of the centenarian population (4 percent). The
percentage separated of the 65 years and over population was also higher
than that of the centenarian population (1 percent and 0.4 percent,
respectively). The percentage never married of the 65 years and over
population (5 percent) was lower than that of the centenarian population
Looking at marital status by sex, men in the
centenarian population were more likely than women to be married (Table
1). Twenty-three percent of centenarian males were married, compared
with 3 percent of females. Sixty-five percent of centenarian males were
widowed, compared with 85 percent of females. A similar pattern existed
for men and women who were 65 years and over. Seventy-one percent of
males 65 years and over were married, compared with 41 percent of
females. Thirteen percent of males 65 years and over were widowed,
compared with 41 percent of females.
The percentage of married centenarians and the
percentage of never married centenarians were not significantly
Turning to income, 83 percent of the centenarian
population received Social Security income, while less than about
one-quarter received retirement income (24 percent). The 65 years and
over population displayed a higher percentage of those receiving Social
Security income (88 percent) as well as retirement income (38 percent).
The mean Social Security income ($11,933) and retirement income
($13,408) amounts were lower for centenarians than for the 65 years and
over population ($12,605 and $18,643, respectively).
Note: In the survey people can be counted as
receiving income from more than one source. Retirement income includes
retirement pensions, survivor benefits, and disability income. Also, the
mean of a particular type of income is obtained by dividing the total
amount of that income for persons within their age group by the total
number of those receiving said income within their age group.
Centenarian males were less likely to report Social
Security income and more likely to report retirement income than
centenarian females. Seventy-seven percent of centenarian men compared
with 84 percent of centenarian women received Social Security income.
Thirty percent of centenarian males compared with 23 percent of
centenarian females received retirement income. In the 65 years and
over population, similar percentages of males and females received
Social Security income, at 88 percent and 87 percent, respectively. The
percentage of males 65 years and over reporting retirement income (45
percent) was higher than that of their female counterparts (32 percent).
Regardless of age, men displayed higher mean Social
Security and retirement incomes. Male centenarians received a mean
Social Security income of $13,137 and a mean retirement income of
$17,516, compared with $11,678 and $12,190, respectively, for
centenarian females. Males 65 years and over received a mean Social
Security income of $14,711 and a mean retirement income of $22,793,
compared with $11,006 and $14,152, respectively, for females.
Although the majority of centenarians for whom
poverty status was determined were above the poverty line, 17 percent
lived in poverty. This was larger than the 9 percent of the 65 years and
over population that lived in poverty. While the difference between the
percentages of centenarian men (19 percent) and women (17 percent)
living in poverty was not significant, the corresponding difference
between men (7 percent) and women (11 percent) for the 65 years and over
population was significant.
Centenarians made up a very small portion of the
total population, representing a rare group. The centenarian population
was 81 percent female and this affected some characteristics. Most
centenarians were widowed. Centenarians reported a broad range of
educational attainment. The majority of centenarians received
retirement and/or Social Security income and lived above the poverty
line. In many aspects, the centenarian population shared comparable
trends with the 65 years and over population.