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Activity Two Introduction:

Population pyramids help us observe the distribution of age groups within a population.
Graphing Aging in the The relative size of one age group compared to another can have important social,
United States —
economic, and political consequences. This activity involves construction and analysis of a
National Patterns
series of population pyramids for the United States, past, present, and anticipated future.

Reading Population Pyramids:


A population pyramid graphically displays a population’s age and sex
Population of the United States, 1990
(age in years) Males Females
composition. By showing numbers or proportions of males and females
85 and over
in each age group, the pyramid creates a “picture” of a population’s basic
80 – 84
75 – 79 characteristics. Pyramids based on proportions or percent of population in
70 – 74
65 – 69
each age-sex group (called cohorts) are best for comparing populations of
60 – 64
different sizes. The sum of all the age-sex cohorts in the population pyramid
55 – 59
50 – 54 equals 100 percent of the population.
45 – 49
40 – 44
35 – 39
A population pyramid is a simple bar graph constructed around a central
30 – 34
25 – 29 axis, with bars to the left most commonly representing males, and those to
20 – 24
15 – 19
the right, females. Each horizontal bar represents the size of an age-sex
10 – 14
cohort as a percent of the total population. In the graph to the left, the
5–9
Under 5 bottom bar shows the percent of males and females who were under five
5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 years of age in 1990; the bar located at ages 30–34 on the pyramid represents
(percent)

Source: US Bureau of the Census


all those alive and living in the United States in 1990 who were in that age
cohort; and so forth up to the pyramid’s top. Each year a new cohort is born
and “appears” at the bottom of the pyramid, while the cohorts above it move
up. As cohorts age, they inevitably lose members because of death, and may gain or lose
Materials:
because of migration.
Activity Two Worksheet
Colored pencils
Constructing Population Pyramids:
Vocabulary: A simplified population pyramid can be constructed using age-sex data in ten-year cohorts.
Population pyramid
Working individually or in groups (as instructed), use data for 1940, 1960, 1980, 2000, or
Cohort
Aging population 2020 and the blank pyramid grid, provided on Activity Two Worksheet, to construct time-
series population pyramids for the United States. For example, for 1940, in the grid section
Objectives: at the bottom of the pyramid blank, labeled “under 10 years” shade the left side of the grid
This activity involves...
▲ construction of population to reflect the percent of the population that was male, and the right side of the grid, the
pyramids percent female, using different colors for males and females. Then repeat this step for each
▲ interpretation of population
ten-year cohort, maintaining the same colors for all males and all females.
pyramids
▲ evaluation of aging trends in the
U.S. over time
▲ speculation about the socio-
economic implications of aging
for the United States over
Activity Two Interpreting Population Pyramids:
A population pyramid can tell a great deal about a population at a glance. Its shape can
(continued) give significant clues to a population’s past and future. For example, the pyramid on the
front of this page reveals a slight majority of males at the very youngest ages. This is
because there are about 105 males born for every 100 females. But the top of the pyramid
shows that females comprise a majority. This is because females typically outlive males.
Pyramids may reveal a postwar “baby boom,” as well as an “echo” effect as baby boomers
start to have kids of their own. Pyramids also show the relationship between the
“dependent” population (under 20 and over 64 years) and the “economically productive”
population (between 20–64 years). As the U.S. population becomes older, there will be an
imbalance between the “dependent” and “productive” populations, which could have
serious implications in the coming years, particularly for retirement and health care
systems.

In summary ...
Analyze pyramids for the United States from 1940–2020. Then discuss the following
questions.

▲ What patterns can be observed in this series of pyramids?


▲ When is the “baby boom” first observed?
▲ Trace the movement of the “baby boom” generation through the pyramids. What
effects — social, economic, political — has this generation had on the country over
the years?
▲ When will the “baby boom” generation reach retirement age? How will this affect the
“dependency ratio”?
▲ What are some social, economic, and political issues that are likely to emerge as the
U.S. population ages?

Aging in the United States


is an education module developed by the
Population Reference Bureau
with support from the
National Institute on Aging
Activity Two Worksheet: Graphing Aging in the United States — National
Pyramid Data — (Percent) Draw your population pyramid below:
1940 Male Female
Under 10 years 8.18 7.94
10 to 19 years 9.21 9.07
20 to 29 years 8.46 8.77
30 to 39 years 7.46 7.57
40 to 49 years 6.55 6.39
50 to 59 years 5.14 4.81 age in years
Males Females
60 to 69 years 3.26 3.22
70 years and over 1.91 2.05
80 and over
1960 Male Female
Under 10 years 11.02 10.65
10 to 19 years 8.53 8.28 ____________________________________________________________________________________
20 to 29 years 6.08 6.13
30 to 39 years 6.67 6.91 70 – 79
40 to 49 years 6.15 6.35
50 to 59 years 4.93 5.11 ____________________________________________________________________________________
60 to 69 years 3.51 3.92
70 to 79 years 1.97 2.37 60 – 69
80 years and over 0.58 0.83
1980 Male Female ____________________________________________________________________________________
Under 10 years 7.42 7.09
10 to 19 years 8.82 8.48 50 – 59
20 to 29 years 9.12 9.05
30 to 39 years 6.94 7.08 ____________________________________________________________________________________
40 to 49 years 4.89 5.12
50 to 59 years 4.87 5.36
60 to 69 years 3.78 4.54 40 – 49
70 to 79 years 2.08 3.05
80 years and over 0.75 1.54 ____________________________________________________________________________________
2000 Male Female 30 – 39
Under 10 years 7.24 6.91
10 to 19 years 7.43 7.07
20 to 29 years 6.64 6.51 ____________________________________________________________________________________
30 to 39 years 7.57 7.63
40 to 49 years 7.59 7.79 20 – 29
50 to 59 years 5.37 5.73
60 to 69 years 3.40 3.89 ____________________________________________________________________________________
70 to 79 years 2.53 3.34
80 years and over 1.12 2.21 10 – 19
2020 Male Female
Under 10 years 6.90 6.57 ____________________________________________________________________________________
10 to 19 years 6.78 6.44
20 to 29 years 6.72 6.60 Under 10
30 to 39 years 6.43 6.57
40 to 49 years 5.67 5.93
50 to 59 years 6.08 6.46 I I I I I I I I I I I I I
60 to 69 years 5.63 6.16 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12
70 to 79 years 3.34 3.87
80 years and over 1.45 2.39
percent
Source: U.S. Bureau of Census.

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