The number of young children in the U.S. fell 9% in the decade ending 2020 as the portion of Americans 65 and over ballooned more than 38%, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday.
The dual patterns lifted America’s median age from 37 to nearly 39, the bureau said, a rise of more than a decade over a half-century. In 1970, half of the U.S. population was barely 28 years old or younger.
Experts say the decline in small children is a lingering effect of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, with many women choosing to wait until later in life to have babies. Birth rates have not recovered since.
“In the short run, the crisis of work-family balance, the lack of affordable childcare, stresses associated with health care, housing and employment stability all put a damper on birth rates by increasing uncertainty,” said Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist.
According to the report, there were more than 73 million children 18 years old in the U.S. in 2020, down from 74.2 million in 2010. Most of that drop was in the number of kids under 5 years old, which declined by 1.8 million, an 8.9% fall.
Meanwhile, the number of older adults swelled as baby boomers aged, with those 65 and older rising to 55.8 million in 2020 – a 38.6% increase from 40.3 million in 2010. Additionally, the number of centenarians skyrocketed by half – the fastest decadelong rise in recent years for that group.
Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at Boston University, said developments in vaccines and antibiotics, along with surgical improvements and better treatment, contributed to the jump.
“Many more people who have the genetic makeup and environmental exposures that increase one’s chances of getting to 100, but who would have otherwise died of what are now readily reversible problems, are able to fulfill their survival destiny,” Perls said.
But such increases present social and economic challenges, including the sustainability of sufficient Social Security and Medicare contributions.
The median age was more than 40 in twice as many U.S. states in 2020 than a decade prior. Meanwhile, half of all states saw their 65-and-older populations climb to more than 17.3% -- the number tallied for Florida in 2010, when it led the nation in that category -- with Maine leading the way at 21.8% and Florida just behind at 21.2%.
Among race and ethnic categories, Americans who identified as white-only were the oldest group with a median age of 43.1. While the group decreased between 2010 and 2020 in nearly every age category, those 65 and older climbed by more than 25%.
Meanwhile, the U.S. multiracial population emerged as the youngest category in 2020, with nearly a third (32.5%) under age 18.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020 census data reveals population in US skews older than before