Information Center

Income of Today’s Older Adults

03/22/21

As concern about the adequacy of the nation’s retirement income programs moves to the forefront of public debate, policymakers and the public are looking to statistics to argue for or against the need for reform. Because there is a wide range of data from a variety of sources, the statistics can be confusing.

To help individuals understand the numbers, the Pension Rights Center worked with the Pension Policy Center to summarize government data on a series of related topics. The following information focuses on the income of today’s older adults. Sources can be found at the bottom of the page.

Income of All Older Adults from All Sources

In 2019, 54.2 million Americans were age 65 and older. Half of all older adults had less than $27,398 in yearly income from all sources.

In 2019, half of all older households received less than $47,357 in yearly income from all sources.

Income for older adults is also measured in terms of aged units. According to the most recent available numbers, half of all aged units had less than $30,193 in 2014.

Table 1. Median annual income of the population, age 65 and older

Demographic unit

Income
Year
Individuals $27,398 2019
Households $47,357 2019
Aged units $30,193 2014

These statistics are “median” income figures. “Median” is a half-way point, where half of a group has more income and half has less.

There are also statistics for the “average” income of older adults. This measure, which is less widely used, adds up all of the incomes of the people surveyed and divides that figure by the number of people counted. The average or “mean” income of persons age 65 and older is higher than the median income because a significant number of older adults have very high incomes.

 

Table A. Measures of average (mean) income of the population age 65 and older

Demographic unit

Income
Year
Individuals $42,009 2018
Consumer units $50,385 2018

Income of Older Adults without Earnings

One out of five older adults have income from earnings. In 2018, the median income of the four-fifths of people age 65 and older who are fully retired was $20,440. The amounts were similar among all older age groups.

Table 2. Median income, by age, with no earnings, 2018

Age

Income of individuals
65+ $22,005
65-74 $22,474
65-69 $21,455
70-74 $23,556
75+ $21,626

For More Statistics on the Income of Older Adults:


Sources

Explanation of the different measures of income

The income of older adults can be measured different ways depending on the economic unit that is being measured. For example, the unit can be the individual, aged units, consumer units, the household, the marital unit, or other measures. These measures also differ as to whether the unit includes any people under age 65.

  • Income of Individuals: As noted in Table 1, in 2018 the median income of persons age 65 and older was $25,601. Measuring income for persons, rather than by households, understates the resources available to some persons and overstates the resources available to others. For example, the income from a pension received by the husband is attributed entirely to the husband, even though that income may be shared by the husband and wife. This measure has the advantage that it does not include persons younger than age 65, who would be included in a household measure.
  • Income of Aged Units: Median income for aged units 65 and older was $30,193 in 2014 [Table 1].   Median income is higher for aged units than for persons because aged units may include more than one person, and an aged unit could include someone younger than age 65 who was still working. Aged units include single persons age 65 and older and married couples. The age of the married couple is the age of the husband if he is 65 or older. If the husband is younger than age 55 and the wife is age 65 or older, the age of the married couple is the age of the wife. This unit of measure allows an assessment of the income of older adults independent of the household in which they are living. Thus, if a single older woman is living with her children, her income as an aged unit would consist entirely of her own income. Thus, this measure may understate the economic resources available to some single older adults.
  • Income of Households: The median income of households where the householder was ages 65 and older was $43,696 in 2018 [Table 1]. A household consists of all the people who occupy a housing unit.  A household can consist of more than two people, some of whom may be younger than age 65.
  • Income of Consumer Units: The average income of consumer units in 2018 was $50,385. Consumer units are defined similarly to households, but may have more people than households.  The average number of people in a consumer unit age 65 and older is 1.4.

Source for Consumer Units Data

Table 1. Median Income of the Population 65+

Note: Census Bureau publications also report a second median household income figure. This lower figure, which is from the same Current Population Survey, includes households with no income (1% of total) and does not include households where the head of the household is younger than age 65, even though the spouse or partner of the household head is age 65 or older.

Data: March 2015 Current Population Survey
Note: The different years reflect the most recent information from different sources.

Table A. Average Income Figures 

Table 2. Income of Older Adults without Earnings

 

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