By Lucia Ona, CEDIK Research Associate
The issue of aging in the rural communities of Kentucky has profound social and economic implications. Within a community, an aging population can lead to both opportunities and challenges that require action from individuals, communities, governments and the private sector. In part 1 of our ‘Aging Kentucky’ series, we start by looking at the data and asking: are Kentucky’s rural communities aging and how?
Between 2000 and 2010, Kentucky mirrored the most important US trends in population growth, with one trend being that its population, on average, got older. Additionally, the stage is set for the US population to get much older in the coming decades as the Baby Boomers generation surges into the upper age group (Price, 2011).
The aging of the Baby Boomers generation has impacted the median age, which has increased and will likely continue to increase. The first figure shows the estimated median age since 2000, its projection until 2030, and important differences between the rural and urban counties in Kentucky. In rural counties, the median age of the population is higher than in urban counties and the difference between rural and urban counties has grown thus far into 2015.
Looking specifically at 2013, population estimates indicate that 16.5% of residents in rural Kentucky were ages 65 and over, compared with 14.4% of all Kentucky residents and 14.1% US residents. These numbers suggest that most rural counties have higher proportions of older population relative to urban counties. Population projections also show that the percent of the population 65 and older will increase in 2030 to about 22.7% in rural Kentucky, 20.1% in Kentucky, and 20.3% in the whole United States. These numbers are reflected in the figure below, which shows the projection of the portion of population 65 and older.
Finally, the map below shows the percent of residents 65 and older at the county level in Kentucky for 2013. Of the six counties where over 20% of the population is 65 and older, five are rural counties. At 23.2%, Hickman County the highest percentage of residents 65 and older, while Scott County has the lowest percentage of residents 65 and older at 10.3%.Overall, the first figure shows that while Kentucky’s rural communities are aging, they are not doing so at a much faster rate than the rest of Kentucky or the United States. And the second figure shows that while rural county has a higher proportion of residents 65 and older, it is only a few percentage points higher, on average, than urban Kentucky or the United States.
As the population ages, older people will increasingly play a critical role in bringing economic and social benefits to societies:
- Through volunteer work
- Transmitting experience and knowledge
- Helping their families with caring responsibilities
- Increasing their participation in the paid labor force.
Given the demographic trends outlined above, rural and urban communities and their policymakers would be wise to think about how best to leverage their own aging population to foster community and economic development.
Elder Readiness Initiative (KERI). 2009. Anticipating the gifts and needs of older Kentuckians in http://kltprc.info/pubs/KERI/KERI_Brief_2.pdf
Price, M. 1996. Migration in Kentucky: Will the Circle Be Unbroken? In Exploring the Frontier of the Future: How Kentucky Will Live, Learn and Work.
 The median age of a population is that age that divides a population into two groups of the same size, such that half the total population is younger than this age, and the other half older. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/worldageing19502050/pdf/95annexi.pdf
 Older persons make major contributions to society, for example, taking care of children and sick individuals. In Kentucky there are more than 69,000 grandparents living with grandchildren, and half of those are primary-givers (KERI).