(CN) – Americans just aren’t as young as they used to be. According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday, the American population is becoming increasingly older. The median age in 2018 is 38.2 years, up one year from 2010 estimates.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab say that’s a good thing.
“The greatest success of human kind, I would argue, is not space travel. It is not the internet. It is that we have made it possible for people to live longer. Now our challenge is how to make them live better,” said Joseph Coughlin, AgeLab director and author of the book The Longevity Economy. “The aging of the United States should not be looked at as a sudden problem—it should be looked at as an opportunity.”
Aside from North Dakota, which dropped to a median age of 35.2 years from 37 years in 2010, every other state population grew a little older since 2010. Utah is the youngest state with a median age of 31 years.
“The nation is aging — more than 4 out of every 5 counties were older in 2018 than in 2010. This aging is driven in large part by baby boomers crossing over the 65-year-old mark,” said Luke Rogers, chief of the Population Estimates Branch at the Census Bureau in a statement. “Along with this general aging trend, we also see variation among race and ethnicity groups both in growth patterns and aging.”
Whites aged the least, with an average population-wide increase of 1 year over the last decade. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders gained an average increase of 2.6 years since 2010, aging the most of any ethnic group in the U.S.
Since 2010, the population of citizens aged 65 and older has increased by 12,159,974 people, making up about 16% of the total U.S. population.
In addition to being older, Americans are living longer and remaining in the workforce longer. According to the AARP, 20% of Americans older than 65 remain in the workplace rather than retire—nearly double the number of senior citizens working in 1985.
Operating an intergenerational workforce comes with its own share of challenges.
“Frankly, just because you’re the oldest guy in the room doesn’t mean you’re the most senior,” Coughlin said. “We have to start rethinking what does it mean to move on up in a law firm, into a corporation, or a government bureaucracy, because now we’re looking at a world of a 3-, 4-, 5-generation workplace.”
The AgeLab is a five-generation workplace, employing workers from age 20 to 100.
Last March, the Census Bureau calculated that by 2030, older people will outnumber minors for the first time in U.S. history, describing the change in demographics from a pyramid to a pillar.
In 1900, the average life expectancy was 50 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is currently 78.6 years old, with women living 4.9 years longer than men.
Coughlin estimated that half of adults who live to age 65, live well beyond 85 years.
“The fact of an aging population is this is a full one-third of your adult life that still lays ahead of you at age 65,” Coughlin said. “It is no longer a short period of golf courses, beach walks and trips to Disney with the grandchildren. It is now going to be a time for perhaps going back to school, starting new businesses, staying in the workplace longer, joining the gig economy.”