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Differences Between Centenarians and Senior Citizens Explored by Census Bureau

Women dominate both age groups, 100 plus less educated, more likely living in poverty

Click for larger viewApril 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 and older.

Major findings from the report include:

•   Of centenarians, 57 percent received at least a high school diploma compared with 77 percent of the 65-and-older group.

•   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 65-and-older group.

•   24 percent of centenarians received retirement income, while 38 percent of the 65-and-older population received it.

About 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 annual results.

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 society."

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.


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Marital Status

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 (7 percent).

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 different.


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.

>> The report, "The Centenarian Population: 2007-2011

>> See the 2010 Census Special Report Centenarians: 2010, at <>.


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