Who's Living Past 100? White Women in the Midwest

A new Census report shows that over 80 percent of centenarians are women.

Elderly woman looks sad

Older workers may become an increasing drag on some businesses, as their salaries and insurance rates tend to be higher.

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Maybe it's time for women to seriously up their 401(k) contributions. According to government number crunchers there were 53,364 Americans over the age 100 in 2010, and nearly 83 percent of them were women.

The Census Bureau's latest report on the nation's centenarians finds that the imbalance between the sexes gets sharper as populations age. However, the nation's oldest citizens also differ from the larger population in other important ways.

Fully 82.5 percent of centenarians are white, compared to 72.4 percent of Americans overall. Likewise, centenarians are far less likely to be Hispanic than the larger population — 94.2 percent of people over 100 in 2010 were non-Hispanic, compared to around 84 percent of the total population.

The nation's centenarians are also not distributed evenly. While states with large populations naturally tend to have more centenarians, upper Midwestern states have greater proportions. Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota lead the nation in this sense, with more than 2.7 centenarians per 10,000 people.

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Still, that doesn't mean that being a white non-Hispanic woman in North Dakota predisposes a person toward longevity.

On the question of race and ethnicity, for example, younger populations tend to be more diverse. Hispanics are a notably fast-growing population, for example, as they immigrate and have children in the United States. Along with Hispanics, Asians also make up a large share of the recent immigrant population. As these young populations grow, they make the overall U.S. population more diverse, making the older segments of the population less so in contrast.

"They just haven't been here long enough to have gotten that old," says Linda Waite, director of the University of Chicago's Center on Aging. Older Americans are simply more likely to be white, in other words, rather than white people being more likely to get old.

Likewise, there's nothing in the upper Midwestern air that's making people live longer, she says. Rather, the fact that so many young people have left those states, while the older population remains, means that there is naturally a higher proportion of the elderly in places like the upper plains.

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"There's been tremendous out-migration of the young population," says Waite. "It's about how many other people are there — who's moving in, who's moving out."

There's one other way that the 100-plus crowd is different from the rest of the population: their ranks have grown much more quickly than the rest of the U.S. Since 1980, the number of people over 100 has jumped by nearly 66 percent, compared to a 36 percent increase for the rest of the population.

Still, America's centenarians are remarkably rare, and possibly growing even rarer. As of 2010, there were 1.79 centenarians per 10,000 Americans. Now, there are only 1.73.

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.