Households age 55 or older form an important part of the housing market. They define a
distinct class of housing, as 55 is the youngest age cutoff mentioned in any of the criteria
under which it’s possible legally to build age-restricted housing for older persons.
This article looks at how many households headed by someone age 55+ there are in the
U.S., and where they’re located. The article is based on new American Community Survey
data released by the U.S. Census Bureau at the end of 2015. The data show that, in the
U.S. as a whole, about 42 percent of all households are headed by someone age 55+.
Other highlights include:
In every state, the 55+ category accounts for over 34 percent of all households.
In every county, 55+ category accounts for over 20 percent of all households.
In 99 percent of the counties, 55+ accounts for over 30 percent.
At the high end, 112 counties have a 55+ household share of over 60 percent.
In the U.S. there are 13 “top 55+” counties, where 55+ not only accounts for over
60 percent of all households, but where there are more than 20,000 55+ households
in total. Ten of these are in Florida, two in Arizona, and one in Massachusetts.
The American Community Survey (ACS) has taken the place of the decennial Census long
form questionnaire that, up until 2000, collected basic data on housing, income and other
characteristics of the U.S. population. The ACS was first fully implemented in 2005 and
therefore just passed its 10th birthday. Strengths of the ACS include its large budget (over
$200 million a year) with a carefully designed and correspondingly large sample size (over
3.5 million homes a year) that covers the entire country in a consistent way and allows for
tabulations at a detailed level of geography.
The main advantage of the ACS over the decennial Census is that new data become
available once a year instead of once a decade. The trade-off is that the ACS needs to
accumulate data over a 5-year period in order to produce a sample roughly equivalent to
that of the decennial Census. If you want to look at smaller geographic areas, like all
counties in the country, you need to use these “5-year Estimates”.
Because this article includes statistics for all counties in the country, it uses the 5-year ACS
estimates from data collected over the 2006-2010 period that were released by the Census
Bureau on December 3.
The article looks at 5-year ACS estimates of households by age, with an emphasis on
households headed by someone age 55 or older. As mentioned in the introduction, 55 is a
natural cut-off for studying housing markets due to the federal law that governs agerestricted
housing. Amendments to the 1968 Fair Housing Act passed in 1988 and 1995 now
allow housing to be age restricted under one of three conditions. The condition that’s easiest
to use in a typical single-family community is that it demonstrates the intent to house
people age 55 or older, and has at least one person age 55+ in 80 percent of its occupied
units, and complies with HUD guidelines for verifying the age of its occupants.1 Even if not
explicitly age-restricted, a community may include amenities that the developer suspects
will appeal to 55+ buyers, but it is not legal to target or market the homes exclusively to
households without children unless the community is age-restricted in accord with the
amended Fair Housing Act.
55+ Households by State
Overall, the 2006-2010 ACS estimates show a little over 48 million households headed by
someone age 55+ in the U.S., accounting for roughly 42 percent of all U.S. households.
Although the percentage is different in different states, the variation is relatively modest.
Of the 51 states (including the District of Columbia), 35 are clustered in in a very narrow
band with a 55+ share of all households between 40 and 45 percent, and no state has a
55+ share under 30 percent or over 50 percent (Figure 1).
At the top end of the scale, the 55+ share of all households is over 45 percent in seven
states: West Virginia (48.3), Florida (47.7), Maine (47.1), Hawaii (46.2), Vermont (46.1),
Montana (46.0) and Pennsylvania (45.7). This list includes a couple of large states, like
Florida and Pennsylvania, each of which has population well over 10 million, as well as
couple that are relatively fast growing. According to the Census Bureau’s Population
Estimates,2 Florida has been the sixth fastest growing state in the country (with a
population that increased by 5.8 percent from 2010 to 2014), and Hawaii is twelfth fastest
(population increase of 4.4 percent).
At the other end of the scale, only in Utah and the District of Columbia are the 55+
household shares under 35 percent—and only slightly under. Households headed by
someone age 55 or older account 34.3 percent of all households in the District, and 34.8
percent of all households in Utah.
Table 1, available at the end of the article, shows the number of 55+ households in each state,
along with the 55+ category as a share of all households. As a group, 55+ households have a tendency to be owners rather than renters.
The ACS data in Table 1 can be used to show that over 70 percent of 55+ households own
their own homes in every state (excluding the District of Columbia).
55+ Households by County
The 5-year ACS release contains estimates of households by age for every county in the
country. Compared to states, counties are considerably smaller and more variable. Even so,
in every one of the 3,142 counties (including county equivalents like the parishes in
Louisiana, independent cities in Virginia and Census designated Areas in Alaska) in the U.S.,
55+ accounts for over 20 percent of all households. In fact, for 3,114 of the 3,142 (more
than 99 percent of them), 55+ accounts for more than 30 percent of all households. Even
the “youngest” state of Utah has a county (Daggett) where nearly three-fourths of the
households are 55+.
Among the 3,142 county and county equivalents, the “oldest” on a percentage basis is
Sumter County in Florida, where 84.8 percent of the households are 55+. Sumter is a
relatively large county (with over 45,000 households) that contains most of The Villages,
which is essentially an entire city of age-restricted housing. Some of the counties with high
particularly 55+ shares are much smaller. Daggett County in Utah, for instance, is the third
oldest county in the country, with 74.6 percent of its households age 55+, but there are
fewer than 300 households total in the entire country. Because of their small populations,
some of these counties will be of limited interest to developers.