Americans Not Confident in Society’s Ability to Handle an Aging Population

Americans most favor delaying retirement and raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare as means to combat budget deficits

05:00 AM EDT May 8, 2015 Rating
  • Tools
Americans Not Confident in Society’s Ability to Handle an Aging Population

New York, N.Y. – It comes as no surprise that as medical advancements continue, life expectancy improves. But what does that mean for America’s economic and health care infrastructures? And how do Americans feel about the likelihood of a larger elderly population than ever before in the near future? A recent Harris Poll shows that while half of Americans (50%) say this prospect is a good thing (with 16% responding negatively), many are not confident that we as a society are prepared for or will be able to handle the costs generated by this aging population.

Americans are nearly split on whether or not we will be able to afford having more people living until they are 80, 90 or even 100. About one-third (34%) say we will be able to while 38% say we won’t.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,232 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 14 and 20, 2015.

It is important to note that many Americans may not have thought about the topic in great detail, given the high number of “unsure” responses. One-third (33%) say they’re unsure whether it’s a good or bad thing that there will be more elderly people alive and 27% say they’re not sure whether we’ll  be able to afford it.

Looking specifically at our health care infrastructure, just over half of adults (51%) believe our health care system will not be able to handle large numbers of people with chronic medical conditions;  meanwhile, a fourth each believe we will be able to handle it (24%) and are not sure (24%).

Budget deficit solution?

As the number of people over 65 increases substantially, many economists believe the cost of Social Security and Medicare is likely to increase a great deal if we do not change these programs. Concerns surrounding these programs top the list of worries Americans are facing with the looming aging population. In fact, nearly six in ten adults do not believe there will be enough money left in Medicare (59%) or in Social Security (58%) for them. This climbs to upwards of seven in ten when focusing on the thoughts of Millennials and Gen Xers, who share the fear of a lack of Medicare (70% Millennials & 74% Gen Xers) and Social Security (72% & 74%).

When provided a list of potential options to pursue in the next five years to control the budget deficit, a 43% plurality feels encouraging many more people over 65 to work is the best option. Coming in second, one in three Americans (33%) feel increasing the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare is the best move. Interestingly, each of these options are most popular among Matures when compared with their generational counterparts, with 58% wanting people over 65 to work (compared to 43% Baby Boomers, 45% Gen Xers, & 38% Millennials) and 50% desiring an increase in eligibility age for both programs (compared to 27%, 34%, and 34%). Nearly one quarter (24%) see increasing taxes as a viable option.

Reducing Medicare benefits (7%) and reducing Social Security benefits (8%) are the least popular avenues of control. However, nearly one-third (32%) don’t feel any of these options are reasonable for controlling the budget deficit in the next five years.

When forced to select two of the options provided, the majority (58%) select encouraging many more people over 65 to work and half (49%) say we should increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare. Over one-third (37%) are also on board with the idea of increasing taxes to help close the gap.

When asked specifically about the notion of increasing the age of retirement, a majority of those under the age of 65 (64%) support the idea that many more people should retire later and continue working after 65, with 21% strongly supporting. However, one-quarter (25%) oppose the idea.

Concerns for the future

Concerns for the future are high on a number of levels. Two-thirds of Americans (67%) feel we are not adequately prepared as a society to spend more years caring for our aging parents than for our children – a prospect many experts say is likely.

Nearly half of Americans (49%) expect they will care for their parents in their old age and 48% are confident they will be able to do so. Millennials are more likely than all other generations to both expect to take care of their parents (76% vs. 61% Gen Xers, 29% Baby Boomers, & 10% Matures) and have confidence in their ability to do so (73% vs. 53%, 32%, & 10%).

Looking at the reverse, 41% of Americans expect that their children will care for them in their old age and 46% are confident their children will be able to do so.

Lastly, regardless of the affordability of caring for elders, a majority of Americans share a more personal concern, as 56% worry about outliving people who are important to them.

 

Want Harris Polls delivered direct to your inbox? Click here!

 


TABLE 1

INCREASE IN NUMBER OF OLD PEOPLE – GOOD OR BAD? – Trend

"Because of the increase in life expectancy and the aging of Baby Boomers, there will be many more old people alive in ten and twenty years times than ever before.  Overall, do you think this is . . .?”

Base: All Adults

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

%

%

A good thing

47

50

A bad thing

20

16

Not sure

34

33

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

 

 

TABLE 2

WILL WE BE ABLE TO AFFORD HAVING MANY MORE OLD PEOPLE? – Trend

“Do you think that we will be able to afford having many more old people living until they are 80, 90 or even 100?”

Base: All Adults

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

%

%

Yes, we will be able to afford it

33

34

No, we will not

38

38

Not sure

29

27

 


TABLE 3

WHAT SHOULD WE DO TO SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE TO CONTROL BUDGET DEFICIT?

By Generation and Party Identification

“As the number of people over 65 increases substantially, the cost of Social Security and Medicare is likely to increase a lot if we do not change these programs.  Which of the following do you think we should do in the next five years to control the budget deficit?”

Base: All Adults

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

Generation

Party I.D.

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen. X

(38-49)

Baby

Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Encourage many more people over 65 to work

47

43

38

45

43

58

46

43

46

Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

30

33

34

34

27

50

40

32

32

Increase taxes

21

24

24

22

24

33

19

31

23

Reduce Social Security benefits

9

8

12

9

5

3

13

5

7

Reduce Medicare benefits

9

7

11

9

4

2

11

5

6

None of the above

35

32

33

33

36

16

30

30

33

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

 

TABLE 4

WHAT WE SHOULD DO IF HAD TO PICK TWO THINGS

By Generation and Party Identification

“Most economists think that it is inevitable that we will have to do one or more of these things, whether we like it or not.  If you had to pick two that we should do, which two would you pick?”

Base: All Adults

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

Generation

Party I.D.

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen. X

(38-49)

Baby

Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Encourage many more people over 65 to work

61

58

49

59

62

70

62

59

56

Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

46

49

49

45

44

68

55

47

48

Increase taxes

31

37

37

33

39

35

32

47

31

Reduce Medicare benefits

12

9

12

14

5

1

11

6

10

Reduce Social Security benefits

10

8

13

10

4

1

11

5

10

None of the above

17

15

15

14

19

7

9

14

18

Note: Multiple responses allowed

 

TABLE 5

ARE WE PREPARED TO SPEND MORE TIME CARING FOR AGING PARENTS? – Trend

"Some experts think that in the future we will have to spend more years caring for our aging parents than for our children.  Do you think that we as a society are adequately prepared to do this?”

Base: All Adults

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

%

%

Yes, we are prepared

16

18

No, we are not

68

67

Not sure

15

16

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

 

 

TABLE 6

WILL HEALTH CARE SYSTEM BE ABLE TO HANDLE INCREASED NUMBERS OF PEOPLE WITH CHRONIC CONDITIONS? – Trend

"As we become older, and as the Baby Boomers age, there will probably be many more people with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.  Do you think our health care system, as it is now, would be able to handle the large numbers of such people?”

Base: Adults aged 18-68 (2015); Adults aged 18-64 (2010)

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

%

%

Will be able

26

24

Will not be able

50

51

Not sure

23

24

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

 


TABLE 7

SUPPORT/OPPOSE MORE PEOPLE WORKING AFTER AGE 65

"Many economists think that, to pay for Social Security and Medicare in the future, many more people should retire later and continue working after 65.  Do you support or oppose this idea?”

Base: Adults aged 18-64

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

%

%

SUPPORT (NET)

64

64

       Strongly support

20

21

       Somewhat support

44

43

OPPOSE (NET)

25

25

       Somewhat oppose

15

14

       Strongly oppose

10

12

Not sure

11

10

 


TABLE 8

ANALYSIS BY GENERATION, EDUCATION AND PARTY

Base: All adults

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

Generation

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen. X

(38-49)

Baby

Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

We are not prepared to spend more years caring for aging parents

68

67

64

67

68

68

Support having more people working over age 65*

64

64

65

68

60

-

Good thing that there will be many more old people

47

50

41

45

56

70

We will not be able to afford having many more old people

38

38

45

44

33

22

 

 

 

 

2010 Total

2015 Total

Education

Party I.D.

H.S. or Less

Some College

College

Grad

Post Grad

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

We are not prepared to spend more years caring for aging parents

68

67

63

65

73

75

70

65

69

Support having more people working over age 65*

64

64

62

59

68

81

67

62

66

Good thing that there will be many more old people

47

50

49

48

51

60

48

56

46

We will not be able to afford having many more old people

38

38

37

42

36

37

42

34

42

Note: * indicates this was only asked of those under 65 years old

 

 


TABLE 9a

CONCERNS OVER AGING POPULATION – Grid Summary 

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All Adults

 

AGREE (NET)

Strongly Agree

Somewhat Agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat Disagree

Strongly Disagree

Not Applicable

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I do not believe there will be enough money left in Medicare for me.

59

28

32

33

23

10

8

I do not believe there will be enough money left in Social Security for me.

58

29

30

34

23

11

8

I worry about outliving people who are important to me.

56

25

31

38

23

15

6

I expect that I will care for my parents in their old age.

49

25

25

18

11

7

33

I am confident that I will be able to care for my parents in their old age.

48

22

25

19

13

7

33

I am confident that my children will be able to care for me in my old age.

46

19

27

30

18

12

24

I expect that my children will care for me in my old age.

41

17

24

36

21

15

23

 


TABLE 9b

CONCERNS OVER AGING POPULATION – Summary of Agree (NET)

By Generation and Party I.D. 

 “Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Generation

Party I.D.

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen. X

(38-49)

Baby

Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I do not believe there will be enough money left in Medicare for me.

59

70

74

52

20

65

53

62

I do not believe there will be enough money left in Social Security for me.

58

72

74

48

19

63

53

61

I worry about outliving people who are important to me.

56

64

57

49

48

53

59

55

I expect that I will care for my parents in their old age.

49

76

61

29

10

47

48

50

I am confident that I will be able to care for my parents in their old age.

48

73

53

32

10

45

47

49

I am confident that my children will be able to care for me in my old age.

46

53

39

41

50

45

49

43

I expect that my children will care for me in my old age.

41

52

35

33

44

38

46

38

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between January 14 and 20, 2015 among 2,232 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

 

The Harris Poll® #26, May 8, 2015

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

Want Harris Polls delivered direct to your inbox? Click here!

Rate This Article: