Author: Divya Venkataganesan, Rebecca Freeman, Swarna Reddy, NC DHHS
In North Carolina, a significant demographic shift is unfolding. Like other states and the nation, our population is aging.
Today, one in every six North Carolinians (17%) are 65 years of age or older and this age group continues to grow appreciably. By 2024, one in five North Carolinians (20%) will be age 65 and older. This, coupled with a slowly growing childhood population (age 17 and under), this population segment’s size will exceed that of the childhood population by 2031. North Carolina's older adult population (age 65+) is set to double to an estimated 2.7 million in 2040 (from 1.8 million today). These dramatic shifts in the makeup of our state’s population highlight the need for policies that address this growing demographic segment.
This demographic transformation is multifaceted, shaped by the aging of the Baby Boom generation (the cohort of individuals who were born during a period of high fertility rates between 1946 and 1964), long-term increases in life expectancy with concomitant declines in fertility rates, and the migration of individuals from other states and abroad. The first part of the Baby Boom generation turned 65 in 2011. Since 2012 and into the future, over 100,000 North Carolinians have turned or will turn 65 every year. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be between the ages of 66 and 84.
Most counties have already reached a milestone expected of the state’s population. There are more older adults than children in 86 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Thus, there is already a need to expand healthcare and community resources and create aging-friendly environments.
Oldest Age Groups in NC Seeing Unprecedented Growth
Stemming from the establishment of old age social support such as Medicare and Social Security and advancements in medicine, more people than in the past are aging into the oldest ages. The State Demographer’s latest population projections indicate a staggering growth of 114% in the oldest old (population age 85+) over the next two decades if current trends continue.
As people age, their physical and mental agility declines and their likelihood of acquiring one or more disability or health issue increases. The needs of this oldest old population are different than those for younger older adults.
Projected Population Change of Older Adults, 2021 - 2041
Among the older adult population, the "young old" (ages 65-74) and "older old" (ages 75-84) together account for 89% of North Carolina's aging demographic. Most older adults perceive themselves as younger than their chronological age and many remain relatively healthy into older ages, which has implications for various aspects of policy and planning. It can influence decisions related to healthcare, social services, retirement planning, and senior housing, etc. Understanding these demographic shifts can aid policymakers in making informed decisions to meet the evolving needs of this population and promote healthy aging.
North Carolina Responds to These Changes
These changes have caught the attention of many state leaders including Governor Roy Cooper, who on May 2, 2023, issued Executive Order 280. This order established NC’s commitment to building an age-friendly state and called upon the NC Department of Health and Human Services to develop a comprehensive, cross-sectoral plan to serve as a blueprint for the development, enhancement, and coordination of critical services for the state’s rapidly aging population.
This planning initiative, known as All Ages, All Stages NC is both timely and imperative. Resulting recommendations will help guide state leaders’ policy and funding decisions as they work to meet the needs of a changing North Carolina for years to come.
The Unprecedented Growth in Aging Presents Opportunities and Challenges
Amidst this unprecedented demographic expansion, addressing the evolving demands of long-term services and supports will be a significant challenge. Meeting the diverse needs of the aging population, funding impactful programs, and tackling the growing prevalence of chronic conditions amidst limited healthcare resources presents hurdles.
However, this shift also offers opportunities like increased workforce participation and community engagement, promoting equity, and developing age-friendly environments. By embracing innovative models, interdisciplinary healthcare approaches, and service redesign, the state can navigate these changes with resilience and optimism.
See Details About the Aging Population In Your County
You can see summaries of the past and projected populations of one or more counties using the State Demographer’s Older Americans in North Carolina visualization. This visualization shows what proportion of the population is 65+ and 85+ and provides more details of age and race/ethnicity characteristics.