Research Brief

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau
2017 Detailed Population Estimates
Last Updated: 07/10/2018

Population Characteristics and Change: 2010 to 2017


Pennsylvania is best characterized as a “slow growth” state. The Commonwealth’s population grew by approximately 100,000 persons from 2010 to 2017, an increase of only 0.8 percent. By 2017, our population was estimated at just over 12.8 million persons.


An Aging Population

The growth of the state’s general population overshadows an important trend in Pennsylvania’s changing composition: the elderly population’s (age 65 and over) growth occurred at rate over 20 times that of the state’s general population - an increase by 16.3 percent from 2010 to 2017.

Pennsylvania’s age make-up skewed older than the nation in 2017 [Figure 1]. Pennsylvania ranked fifth among the fifty states by the sheer size of it's population age 65 and over (2.2 million) and seventh by percentage (17.8%). Pennsylvania has a larger share of older adults (starting with 48-year-olds) in every single-year age cohort with 5-year-olds representing the largest group. The youth and young adult populations constitute a larger percentage of the nation’s population (with the exception of 18 to 20-year-olds) where the largest single-year age cohort is 26-year-olds.

Figure 1. Population age 0 to 84 years by single year of age in PA and U.S.

Pennsylvania’s greatest increases since 2010 have occurred in the 60 to 64 cohort (+17.6%), 65 to 69 cohort (+31.5%), and 70 to 74 cohort (+29.4%). The highest decreases occurred in the 45 to 49 (-15.9%) and the 50 to 54 cohorts (-14.4%) [Figure 2]. The total population age 65 years and over grew from 15.4 percent (1.96 million persons) of Pennsylvania’s total population in 2010 to 17.8 percent (2.27 million persons) of the state’s population in 2017.

Figure 2. Percent change in population by five-year cohort.

Perry County (+32.1%) experienced the greatest percent increase in its population age 65 years and over among Pennsylvania’s counties followed by Pike (31.5%), Monroe (29.4%), Chester (28.5%), and Centre (28.2%). The counties with the highest percentage of their population age 65 and over were Sullivan (27.1%), Cameron (25.9%), Wayne (23.8%), Potter (23.4%), and Susquehanna (22.9%) in 2017. Wayne, Potter, and Susquehanna Counties displaced Potter, Bedford, and Elk Counties as the third, fourth, and fifth-ranked counties by the percentage of population age 65 years and over in 2010.


A More Dependent Population

A population’s long-term sustainability and the challenges that lie ahead can be determined by its age structure. An age dependency ratio [NOTENOTE: The age dependency ratio has a few limitations to keep in mind when discussing the dependent population. Not all persons of working age are working or independent; defining dependency solely by age and not considering other important characteristics like disability or unemployment limit the dependency ratio’s ability to tell the full story. Headlines talk of an impending retirement crisis throughout Pennsylvania and the nation, and as such citizens are working past retirement years (65 years old). Therefore, it is not accurate to assume that everyone 65 years and over is dependent on the working-age population.] uses age to determine the ratio of working age citizens (15 to 64 years of age) to those whom are dependent (not in the labor force). The total age dependency ratio classifies persons under 15 years and persons 65 years or over as dependent and can further be broken down into elderly and youth dependency ratios. For instance, the elderly dependency ratio is the number of persons 65 and over for every 100 persons of working age (age 15 to 64).

The total dependency ratio for Pennsylvania was 54.4 in 2017, up from 50.2 in 2010 and increased an average of 0.6 per year from 2010 to 2017 [Figure 3]. The youth dependency ratio in the state remained relatively flat from 24.9 in 2010, experiencing an average change of -0.1 per year to end at 24.2 in 2017. Nearly all of the increase in dependent population can be attributed to the growth of the elderly dependent index from 25.2 in 2010 to 30.2 in 2017, an average growth of 0.7 per year.

Figure 3. Dependency ratios for PA by year.

Table 1 lists the percent of the population by dependency status and the dependent ratios for Pennsylvania and counties. Counties with the highest dependency ratios in 2017 included Cameron (81.4), Sullivan (74.1), Potter (72.5), Susquehanna (71.0), and Warren (69.3). The highest youth dependency ratios occurred in Cameron (34.3), Bradford (33.6), Mifflin (32.4), Venango (32.2) and Potter (32.1) counties. The counties with the highest elderly dependency ratios include Sullivan (47.2), Cameron (47.0), Potter (40.4), Wayne (40.0), and Susquehanna (39.2).

Table 1. Age distribution and dependency ratios by county.
Click on table headers to sort by field

The counties with the lowest total dependency ratios include Centre (38.3), Philadelphia (47.7), Union (49.9), Forest (50.2), and Monroe (53.2). The lowest youth dependency ratios were observed in Forest (16.5), Centre (19.4), Union (23.4), Columbia (25.7), and Indiana (26.2) counties. Counties with the lowest elderly dependency ratios included Centre (19.0), Philadelphia (19.8), Chester (24.4), Delaware (24.8), and Lehigh (25.4).

Pennsylvania’s population is getting older as evidenced by a larger percentage of its population in the 65 years and over cohort and its growing elderly dependency ratio. Pennsylvania ranked seventh in the nation for the percent of its population in the 65 years and over age cohort and ninth in the nation for its elderly dependency ratio - over 30 dependent elderly persons for every 100 working age persons - in 2017. By our projections, there will be 38 elderly dependent persons for every 100 working age persons in Pennsylvania by 2030.

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