5 key trends as Americans live longer

There's no doubt that a longevity revolution is under way in the U.S. and in much of the developed world. As more and more people live to an advanced age, it's bound to significantly alter the way Americans live, work and play. The profound changes that will likely result from this extension of longevity are often likened to the ongoing shifts in technology and climate change.

Even something as basic as the concept of retirement itself is heading for a new definition, or perhaps multiple definitions. There'll be a stronger focus on all aspects of life for older citizens, as society grapples with the implications of one of humankind's greatest achievements -- large numbers of people living to advanced ages.

Here are five of the more interesting trends about aging that will affect how we live in the coming years:

Almost three out of four people age 65 and older voted in the 2012 presidential election.

This is the highest proportion of any age group, and it's one powerful reason politicians focus on the challenges facing seniors. As a result, they're loath to reduce Social Security benefits, which makes it far-fetched to say, as some scare-mongers do, that Social Security is going away. As long as we have democracy, we'll have some form of Social Security. The challenge is to get politicians to make tough choices to adequately finance the system.

A little more than half (58.6 percent) of people age 65 and older were married in 2014.

One-third (33 percent) of people age 75 to 84 were widowed, and almost half (44 percent) of people age 85 and older were widowed. Living alone is considered a high risk in old age, when individuals are the most vulnerable to frailty, fraud and running out of money. With people living longer and often alone, increasing attention will be paid to the "old-old" in the years to come.

More services will be created for the elderly.

Taking care of the elderly will offer business and career opportunities for decades to come. Increasing attention will be paid to developing technology and services that help people live at home for as long as possible.

For example, businesses providing services to the elderly and people with disabilities, most of whom lived at home, increased from 621,546 workers in 2007 to 911,311 workers in 2012. Revenues produced by such businesses increased from $25.3 billion in 2007 to $34.4 billion by 2012.

On the other hand, between 2007 and 2012, the use of residential continuing-care retirement communities was relatively flat or declining. In 2007, 442,219 people were employed in these establishments, but that figure dropped to 426,109 by 2012. Likewise, revenue produced by these establishments barely increased from $26 billion in 2007 to $27.7 billion in 2012.

Most older citizens are tech-enabled.

More than two-thirds (71 percent) of households with a person age 65 and over report owning a computer. Almost two-thirds (62.4 percent) accessed the Internet with a high-speed connection. The Web will continue to be used in creative ways to help seniors with their challenges, such as buying necessary goods and services from home, loneliness (think Skype, Facebook, online meet-ups) and frailty (think monitoring systems that tell remote relatives how often the refrigerator has been opened or whether grandma's gait indicates a change in health status).

More than four out of five (83.6 percent) Americans age 65 and older in 2014 completed high school or higher education.

More than one-fourth (26.3 percent) of them have a bachelor's or higher degree. Having an education is an essential ingredient to living a long, prosperous life, and a gap is growing in life expectancies between the well-educated and those with less schooling.

Message to the youth: Get as much education as you can (but don't get into too much debt while doing that).

In the decades to come, ever more attention will be paid to all aspects of life for older citizens, whether it's financing retirement, keeping older citizens in the workplace, squeezing the most out of financial resources or keeping people healthy and happy for as long as possible.

  • Steve Vernon On Twitter»

    View all articles by Steve Vernon on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.