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The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers


  • James R. Knickman,

  • Emily K. Snell

James R. Knickman, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Evaluation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Box 2316, Princeton, NJ 08543. Emily Snell, B.A., is a Senior Research Assistant at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The paper was written while Dr. Knickman was Regents’ Lecturer at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. The support and input of colleagues both at UC, Berkeley and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are acknowledged. The opinions and conclusions are the authors and are not meant to reflect those of the sponsoring institutions.


Objective. To assess the coming challenges of caring for large numbers of frail elderly as the Baby Boom generation ages.

Study Setting. A review of economic and demographic data as well as simulations of projected socioeconomic and demographic patterns in the year 2030 form the basis of a review of the challenges related to caring for seniors that need to be faced by society.

Study Design. A series of analyses are used to consider the challenges related to caring for elders in the year 2030: (1) measures of macroeconomic burden are developed and analyzed, (2) the literatures on trends in disability, payment approaches for long-term care, healthy aging, and cultural views of aging are analyzed and synthesized, and(3)simulations of future income and assets patterns of the Baby Boom generation are developed.

Principal Findings. The economic burden of aging in 2030 should be no greater than the economic burden associated with raising large numbers of baby boom children in the 1960s. The real challenges of caring for the elderly in 2030 will involve: (1) making sure society develops payment and insurance systems for long-term care that work better than existing ones, (2) taking advantage of advances in medicine and behavioral health to keep the elderly as healthy and active as possible, (3) changing the way society organizes community services so that care is more accessible, and (4) altering the cultural view of aging to make sure all ages are integrated into the fabric of community life.

Conclusions. To meet the long-term care needs of Baby Boomers, social and public policy changes must begin soon. Meeting the financial and social service burdens of growing numbers of elders will not be a daunting task if necessary changes are made now rather than when Baby Boomers actually need long-term care.