Arizona’s rising median age brings concerns, opportunity
State's ranks ninth-youngest in nation, according to Census
WASHINGTON — Aging baby boomers drove Arizona’s median age up by 1.7 years over the last decade, to 35.9 years old in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Compared with other states, Arizona is still relatively young. Its median age of 35.9 years was ninth-youngest in the nation in 2010, the Census said.
But the shift of baby boomers into senior-citizen ranks has some experts wondering if society is prepared for the potential increase in social service costs it could bring.
“The cost of services is really rising. The more of them (senior citizens) there are, the more services are needed,” said Anne Morrison, director of education at the University of Arizona’s Center on Aging.
While there may be challenges, Morrison and others point to the positive economic impact seniors can have, which can more than offset the “stereotypical negatives” of the aged.
That is particularly true in Arizona, where a culture of “bootstrap independence” contributes to the well-being of so many of the state’s seniors, said Melanie Starns, assistant director of the Department of Economic Service’s Aging and Adult Services division.
“That’s the history of this state,” Starns said. “I know people who are in their late 80s, and they’re golfing three to four times a week. When you’re outside and walking that much, it’s going to impact your health.”
Starns and Morrison both said the first wave of baby boomers do not consider themselves old yet. That means that they are putting retirement income into a society from which they do not demand as much infrastructure as a working person.
Cynthia Fagyas, spokeswoman for AARP Arizona, said the numbers point to a break in stereotypes about the state’s aging population.
“Arizona has been seen as a mecca for retirement,” Fagyas said. “But we’ve been an active-adult-living state. They’re not just sitting around here.”
Other experts said that the kind of folks that come to Arizona usually are healthier and have more disposable income, which helps aid an active lifestyle.
“The people that are coming here are physically better off,” said Dennis Garvey, director of the Center for Successful Aging at Yavapai College in Prescott.
“The wealthier you are, the healthier you are. You see the elderly, and their numbers are doubling, tripling, quadrupling. People are living longer lives,” he said.
Garvey said the state was able to age over the last decade and still remain among the youngest states in the nation because Arizona is “aging in pockets.”
“We’ve got many more younger families and Latino families, and they’re having children,” he said. “We look like the future of an aging society. We look like everyone else is going to be in 2030.”
He said that, rather than being “a drain on the economy because of hospital care,” an aging population should be viewed as a possible economic engine.
“We’ve never been here before,” Garvey said. “It’s the first time in the history of our nation that older people are growing more than other demographics.”
But Morrison worries that not enough is being done to prepare for that demographic shift, whether it ushers in a positive economic engine or not.
“We’ve been talking about this for the last 20 to 30 years. But we’re not prepared,” Morrison said. “We don’t have enough medical professionals trained to work with older adults.
“As a country, we tend to respond to emergencies better than we do being prepared. This isn’t a good way to do things,” she said.