Research Report

Estimating Pennsylvania:
Population through the Ages

Pennsylvania’s Aging Population

Pennsylvania is best characterized as a “slow growth” state. The Commonwealth’s population experienced a percent increase of only 0.6 percent since 2010. 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 13.5 percent from 2010 to 2016.

Pennsylvania’s age make-up is skewed older than the nation [Figure 1]. Pennsylvania has a larger share of older adults (starting at 47-year-olds) in every single-year age cohort with 56-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 25-year-olds.

Pennsylvania’s greatest increases since 2010 have occurred in the 60 to 64 cohort (+15.0 percent), 65 to 69 cohort (+31.9 percent), and 70 to 74 cohort (+19.0 percent) while the highest decreases were in the 40 to 44 and the 45 to 49 cohorts at -14.7 percent and -13.0 percent, respectively [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 17.4 percent (2.22 million person) of the state’s population in 2016.

Pike County (+30.1 percent) experienced the greatest percent increase in its population age 65 years and over among Pennsylvania’s counties followed by Adams (24.5 percent), Chester (24.5 percent), Perry (23.8 percent), and Juniata (23.0 percent). The counties with the highest percentage of their population age 65 and over were Sullivan (27.8 percent), Cameron (25.2 percent), Potter (22.8 percent), Forest (22.4 percent), and Wayne (21.9 percent) in 2016. Forest and Wayne Counties displaced Bedford and Elk Counties as the 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 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 53.4 in 2016, up from 50.2 in 2010 and increased an average of 0.5 per year from 2010 to 2016 [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 2016. 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 29.3 in 2016, an average growth of 0.7 per 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 2016 included Potter (66.3), Mifflin (74.7), Cameron (64.0), Juniata (63.1), and Bradford (62.3). The highest youth dependency ratios occurred in Lancaster (31.4), Lebanon (30.7), Mifflin (30.1), Juniata (29.7) and Bradford (29.4) counties. The counties with the highest elderly dependency ratios include Sullivan (43.9), Cameron (41.3), Potter (37.9), Mifflin (34.6), and Warren (34.5).

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The counties with the lowest total dependency ratios include Forest (33.3), Centre (34.3), Union (44.8), Philadelphia (46.0), and Monroe (46.9). The lowest youth dependency ratios were observed in Forest (3.4), Sullivan (13.9), Centre (16.9), Union (20.8), and Wayne (21.0) counties. Counties with the lowest elderly dependency ratios included Center (17.5), Philadelphia (18.8), Chester (23.4), Monroe (23.6), and Delaware (27.6).

Concluding Remarks

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 29 dependent persons for every working age person - in 2016. By our projections, Pennsylvania’s elderly dependency ratio will increase to 38 dependent persons for every working age person by 2030.

The age dependency ratio has a few limitations to keep in mind when discussing the dependent population. First, not all persons of working age are working or independent. Defining dependency solely by age and not considering other important characteristics like disability limit the age dependency ratio’s ability to tell the full story. Lastly, 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.

How do other states fare?

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