Age-Friendly Region

July 2012

The world’s population is aging. Decreasing birth rates in industrialized countries combined with longer life spans are creating a changing demographic. The oft-cited Baby Boomer generation, individuals born between 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 in 2011. For the next 18 years, between 7,000 and 10,000 members of this group will turn 65 in the United States each day. By 2030, the population of older adults in the United States is expected to double. In addition to the Baby Boomers’ sheer volume, this group has many different characteristics than generations before them. As a whole, this group is more physically active, more mobile and more affluent than previous generations. Past generations of Americans included many members who never obtained drivers licenses and relied on public transportation (Kostyniuk and Shope, 2003). Baby Boomers, on the other hand, were brought up with a high level of reliance on the automobile, and women in particular use the car in higher numbers than women in the past (Spain, 1997). The Boomer generation experienced the civil rights, the environmental movement and the technological. This group has pioneered a new way of life and there is no reason to expect that this trend will change as they move into older adulthood and retirement.

Finding & Trends: 

Is the Portland region age friendly?

What is age friendly? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines an age-friendly city as one that “encourages active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.” In other words, in an age-friendly city, residents can continue to live full, meaningful lives regardless of their age. This story will explore some of the region’s age-friendly features and barriers and attempt to determine if the region is in fact, age friendly. Additionally, which of these features contributes to or detracts from health, participation, and security? The data used for the analysis in this report is available for download at the bottom of the page.

Older adults are not a homogeneous group. On average, the needs of a 65 year old are quite different than an 85 year old. Similar to other age groups, income, education and employment varies widely for older adults. Due large size of the Baby Boom cohort, the 45-to-64 age group (mostly from 2010 Census Data) is explored in many of the findings within this data story. The present characteristics of this group can provide an idea of what opportunities and needs may be critical in the future. 

Figure 1: Growth Projections for the 65 and Over Population 2010 to 2030

Source: US Census Bureau, Interim State Population Projections (2005) and Office of Economic Analysis, Department of Administrative Services, State of Oregon (2004)

The population pyramid below for the United States shows the Baby Boom generation or “silver tsunami” quite clearly for the age groups 40 to 64. We can also see the Baby Boom echo - Generation Y, or Millennial Generation in the pyramid as another bulge in the 15 to 29 year old range.

Figure 2: 2010 United States population pyramid

Source: US Census Bureau

In contrast to the United States population pyramid, the Portland region pyramid for 2010 have some noticeable differences.

Figure 3: 2010 greater Portland region population pyramid

Source: US Census Bureau

In the 2010 Portland region population pyramid, there is a bulge that spans ages 25 to 64. Migration into the region accounts for more than 50 percent of the population increase for three of the four counties (see the migration information under the Our Region tab of the Portland Pulse In contrast to the national population pyramid, there is not a dip between the Baby Boomers to the Millennial Generation. In this region, the population is aging but an above-average number of younger adults have been migrating to this area as well. This phenomenon makes the Boomer bulge less pronounced in the Portland region. Planning for an aging society in the Portland region includes anticipating a population that not only includes the Boomer generation that has already begun to reach 65 but also the echo generation, because of the in-migration of the younger creative class of individuals 25 to 44. This will continue the “boom” for the next 50-plus years. What challenges and opportunities will take place as part of this changing demographic? This demographic in the Portland region includes aging Boomers and also the in-migration of the younger creative class of individuals 25 to 44. What will this change mean for housing, transportation, the economy and services in our region? Many of the Baby Boomers that moved to the suburbs and started families 20 to 30 years ago are now aging in place in those areas. This story will not only explore older adults, defined here as individuals 65 and over here, but will also highlight the entire Baby Boom generation.

Connecting Equity and Age Friendliness

Portland City Council adopted the Portland Plan on April 25, 2012. This was the culmination of three years of work and public involvement in an effort to imagine Portland in 2035. Educated youth, economic prosperity and a healthy connected city are the fundamental components of the Plan. The Plan views all three of these components through an equity lens. The Plan defines equity as “…when everyone has access to the opportunities necessary to satisfy their essential needs, advance their well-being and achieve their full potential. We have a shared fate as individuals within a community and communities within society. All communities need the ability to shape their own present and future. Equity is both the means to healthy communities and an end that benefits us all." In early drafts, an aging society and older adults were not explicitly mentioned in the Plan. Through public involvement, comment and testimony, leaders in the aging community were able to stress the importance of aging issues. Due to these efforts, a number of age-friendly action items were incorporated into the Portland Plan. Age-friendly indicators can assist policy makers, citizens and activists in tracking the progress of these efforts. Considering age friendliness and different needs across the human lifespan is critical to meeting the equity goals of the Portland Plan and Metro’s regional values.

Existing Age-friendly Efforts

In anticipation of this changing demographic, a number of age-friendly initiatives have started to take place both worldwide and in our region.

Portland State’s Institute on Aging (IOA), established in 1969, is a leader in addressing age-related issues including housing, age-friendly communities, global aging, and research methods. In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) approached IOA to participate in their Global Age-Friendly Cities project. The goal of the project was to identify age-friendly features and barriers through a series of focus groups. Out of the 33 international cities that participated, Portland was the only U.S. city. In 2010, the City of Portland, in collaboration with IOA, requested membership in the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and was awarded membership in 2011. At that time, Portland and New York were the only two U.S. cities in the network. This network was established “to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide.” For more information about IOA and the Global Age-Friendly Cities project please visit their website

Every county within the Portland region has recently started initiatives, programs or other age-friendly efforts as well. Multnomah County’s Task Force on Vital Aging was created in 2007 by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners “to assess and identify new opportunities, best practices, barriers and recommendations for enhancing the independence, engagement, and contributions of older adults in Multnomah County and our region.” The EngAGE in Community program within Clackamas County Social Services Division partnered with Oregon State University’s Extension Service and AARP Oregon in 2011 to attempt to effect community change “by exploring aging-related issues and increasing and improving resources that will establish Clackamas County as an age-friendly place, a place for all ages.” In Clark County, Washington, the Department of Community Planning, the Board of Clark County Commissioners, a 25-member task force, and engaged community stakeholders assessed the county’s capacity to meet the needs of its growing number of older citizens and to connect the findings to long-range planning efforts. Washington County’s Disability, Aging and Veteran Services is currently working with the Vision Action Network, local communities, and the public to write a three-year strategic plan which will improve service delivery systems in partnership with cities and stakeholders to meet the increasing needs of elders in the county.   

With the Portland Plan adopted, implementation of the plan will now take priority. There are over 100 action items listed in the Plan. As a member of the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities, Portland must assess its age friendliness. To this end, one of the items in the Portland Plan is the creation of an age-friendly city action plan. In addition to the action plan, Portland has recently started a major update to the city's Comprehensive Plan. It has been over 30 years since the City of Portland adopted this long-range plan to guide the future growth and development of the city.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability recently solicited students from PSU’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program to work on an age-friendly project as part of their workshop class. The MURP workshop engages students and community partners in community-based, client-focused planning projects. In 2012 one group of students worked with Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and IOA to create a vision for age-friendly Portland and recommended policy ideas to support that vision. The students engaged in a robust public outreach process that echoed what IOA had heard in their previous study. The final plan from this project can be found here:

Health, Participation and Security

Health, participation and security, the cornerstones of an age-friendly place, depend on choices and opportunities. Are there opportunities to access healthy foods, recreation, transportation options and to participate in activities where older adults live? If not, how can they access them, are there transportation options that are safe, convenient and affordable?

Where do older adults live in our region?

The maps below show the distribution of adults 65 and over in the region by census tract for 1990, 2000 and 2010. In 1990, the highest percentages of older adults were in either urban or rural areas and there was a notably low percentage in suburban areas. In 2000, this concentration of 65 and older residents became more dispersed, with lower percentages of older adults in downtown Portland and close-in locations. It is difficult to determine if this was due to older adults moving out of the region or younger people moving into the area. Most likely it was a mixture of both. From 2000 to 2010, the number of tracts in which there were above-average percentages of older adults increased throughout the region and especially in the suburban locations.

Figure 4: 1990 Population Age Data by census tract

Source: US Census Bureau

Figure 5: 2000 Population Age Data by census tract

Source: US Census Bureau

Figure 6: 2010 Population Age Data by census tract

Source: US Census Bureau


Health is dependent upon a number of variables both internal to and external of an individual. While all of the data in this story are relevant to health in one way or another, these indicators are some of the most important to health promotion.


Access to fresh, healthy food has been shown to have positive health benefits in people of all ages. The map below shows census tracts identified as food deserts by the US Department of Agriculture and the number of people age 65 and over living in that area.

Figure 7: Number of People 65 and Over with Low Access to a Supermarket or Large Grocery Store

Source: US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service



Access to amenities and services is important for older adults. Besides grocery stores, older adults tend to visit health care institutions at an increasing rate as they age. Lastly, libraries, parks, and schools are places where intergenerational activities can take place, as well as classes and other social activities that can be beneficial to older adults.


Figure 8: Population 65 and Over and Amenities in the Region

Source: US Census Bureau and Metro


The Portland region has a long history of civic participation that includes activism and volunteering. According to a report by Civic Life in America, 36.2 percent of all adults 16 and over reported volunteering with or through one or more groups in 2010. One important aspect of for participating in society is the ability to move from one place to another. Transportation is critical for job access, education, obtaining goods and services, receiving health care, and social activities. Social activities such as intergenerational interaction are important to older adults and youth.


Next to housing, transportation is often the next highest household expense. Housing plus transportation costs that exceed 45% of household income do not qualify as affordable according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). The figure below shows the number of census tracts in the region and the percent of income spent on housing and transportation as a portion of household income. Transportation options and choices can influence access to jobs, food, education, recreation, and social activities. The Portland region has many public transportation options but these options are dependent upon where people live. Bus, light rail and street car are options for many people in the region. Although options exsit fo many people, the majority of the region’s residents use automobiles as their main form of transportation. Research has shown that crash rates by vehicle miles driven start to increase exponentially for drivers over 65 years of age (Evans, 2000). Providing options for older adults and people of all ages to use non-automotive transportation more frequently will be critical to a prosperous future. In a recent poll conducted by Metro, 80 percent of respondents said that they wanted to live and work in areas where they could walk, bicycle, and take transit.

Figure 9: Percent of Median Household Income Spent on Housing and Transportation (all ages)

Source: Center for Neighborhood Technology and American Community Survey

Active transportation is defined as walking and bicycling and sometimes includes transit since the rider is usually a pedestrian on at least one end of their trip. Public health professionals have touted the benefits of active transportation and the physical activity associated with it. In 1996, the United States Surgeon General issued a report on the link between physical activity and health and the prevention of chronic disease. Exercise and physical activity are important for people of all ages, but they are even more critical for older adults to maintain their quality of life. However, research has shown that physical activity levels typically decrease with age (Schutzer and Graves, 2004).


The map below shows where older adults live in the region and frequent-service transit stops with ¼ mile service areas. TriMet defines frequent service as transit arriving about every 15 minutes. Clearly downtown and inner eastside locations are fairly well served by frequent transit service. Areas farther east, west and south do not have the same transit coverage. Older adults who live close to a frequent service transit route are typically able to take advantage of the service. There are many tracts that have a high percentage of older adults that are not close to a frequent service transit line. Older adults with the resources to own and operate an automobile may not need to rely on transit. Lower income older adults or those that choose not to use their car in these areas have fewer transportation options. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, these areas of reduced access may increase.

Figure 10: Population 65 and Over and Frequent Transit Service in the Region

Source: US Census Bureau and Metro


TriMet recently released a pedestrian network analysis report. One of the five main objectives of the analysis was to “Address the needs of seniors, people with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and school children.” TriMet realizes that every transit rider is a pedestrian first. The pedestrian environment is critical, especially around transit stops. TriMet’s buses and trains are accessible but the pedestrian environment around the stops varies from location to location.

The map below shows all of the streets within the region that have complete sidewalks on at least one side of the street and the percent of older adults 65 and over in each tract. Older parts of most cities in the region have relatively complete sidewalk coverage. Streets and housing developments constructed in the 1960s through the 1990s or in suburban locations have less complete sidewalk networks. While this map shows streets with sidewalks on at least one side, it does not detail whether there are curb ramps present, the width of the sidewalk, and if there are any obstructions such as utility poles. These pedestrian scale features are best detailed at the neighborhood level. Once again, inner Portland has a high density of sidewalks but the west hills and locations farther from downtown have fewer sidewalks and higher percentages of older adults. This lack of pedestrian infrastructure may discourage residents from walking to services or recreation.


Figure 11: Population 65 and Over and Sidewalks in the Region

Source: US Census Bureau and Metro


Educational attainment between individuals age 65 and over and 45 to 64 is shown in the graph below for the combined Clark, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington County region. Perhaps not surprisingly, individuals in the 45 to 64 age range have a higher percentage of some college, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees and lower percentages of high school graduate or less. This chart shows that Boomers are more educated than the previous generations of older adults.


Figure 12: Educational Attainment of Adults 45-64 and 65 and Over Portland Region

Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 5-year estimate

Compared to the United States as a whole, the Portland region has a higher percentage of older adults and Boomers with associate degrees, bachelor degrees, and graduate or professional degrees. Studies have found that adults with higher education are more likely to volunteer (Jones, 1999).


Figure 13: Educational Attainment of Adults 45-64 and 65 and Over United States

Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 5-year estimate

Intergenerational Opportunities

Intergenerational interaction is important for people of all ages and older adults are no different. The Institute on Aging’s Age-Friendly Cities project found that older adults value intergenerational events and activities. During the MURP workshop public process, the students heard from older adults who were interested in more intergenerational opportunities. Many older adults have a lifetime of experience to offer and are eager to share their knowledge. Finding meaningful ways to engage people of different generations is a crucial component of age friendliness. The map below shows census tracts within the region that have higher than average percentages of individuals over the age of 65 and higher than average individuals under the age of 18. In other words, the darkened tracts show areas with higher than average older adults and children. Of adults of all ages that volunteer in the region the highest percentage, 29.5 percent, volunteer with education or youth services according to Civic Life in America. These “intergenerational opportunity areas” identified below could be targeted for future programs, facilities or outreach efforts.


Figure 14: Intergenerational Opportunity Areas

Source: US Census Bureau




A critical component of equity is income, prosperity and the access to goods, services and care that comes with it.  Social determinants of health are described by the WHO as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, love, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequalities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries” (World Health Organization).

The passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 provided a safety net for many older adults. The monthly Social Security payment received by an individual is based on their best thirty-five years of earnings and if a person retires early, their benefit is reduced by ½ percent for each month prior to full retirement age. The chart below shows the average monthly Social Security for the Portland region and for regions with similar population sizes. At an average benefit of $983 per month, the Portland region has the lowest benefit average.

Figure 15: 2010 Average Monthly Social Security Benefit of Retired Workers

Source: US Social Security Administration

Figure 16: Income Comparison for Older Adults by County

Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 5-year estimate


Older adults are working longer, either by choice or due to necessity. Studies show that the recent recession prompted many older adults to delay retirement (McFall, 2011). For other low income older adults, retirement may not be an option.


Figure 17: Unemployment by Age and County

Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 5-year estimate


Housing is a fundamental component of safety and security in the hierarchy of human needs. Without a safe, comfortable place to live, it can be difficult for people to lead productive and meaningful lives. Housing affordability can be a concern for everyone, but especially for older adults as they are more likely to rely on a fixed income. This fixed income coupled with decreased employment prospects can pose a housing affordability problem for older adults. Social Security can assist those who receive it but this income alone is typically not sufficient to afford housing in the region. As previously stated, the average monthly Social Security income in the region for retired workers is $983. Social Security is not available to those who have not paid into the system or have not worked long enough to be eligible. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) annually estimates Fair Market Rent (FMR) for metropolitan areas. These FMR figures are gross estimates that include the cost of all tenant-paid utilities. The FMR for a one bedroom in the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton OR, WA Metro Statistical Area is $771. Social Security data is available by zip code from the U.S. Social Security Administration. The map below shows the percentage of Social Security needed to afford a monthly rent of $771 for each zip code in the region.


Figure 18: 2010 Percentage of Average Monthly Social Security Benefit Needed to Afford a 1-Bedroom

Source: US Social Security Administration

Besides affordability, accessible housing is critical to older adults. Accessible housing typically has few stairs, wider doorways and other features that make them open to people of different ages and functional ability. Currently, there is not a reliable source for the number of accessible housing units in the Portland region and PSU’s Institute on Aging reports that most housing units in the region are not accessible by the lowest accessibility standards. The Portland Plan includes an action item to increase the supply of housing accessible to meet the changing needs of people throughout their life.


Is the Portland Region Age Friendly?

The Portland region has many age-friendly features. The region has been a leader in land use planning, transportation, and sustainability. Overall, the region is age friendly. From one location to the next though, age-friendliness can vary. Downtown Portland offers complete sidewalks with curb cuts and easy access to transit but the cost of housing can be high. Locations further from urban centers may offer more affordable housing but offer fewer amenities and transportation options. Next steps could include a finer-grained look at the county, city or neighborhood area. In addition, many age-friendly features such as pedestrian walking environments and perception of safety are difficult to measure at the regional scale. These features are best identified, explored and addressed at a more local level.

Co-benefits of Age-Friendly Improvements

The vast majority of the improvements, amenities, and services described in this story that are important to older adults are important for people of all ages and abilities. Leveraging the co-benefits of age-friendly improvements that increase the quality of life not only for older adults, but for people of all ages and abilities, will be critical in future efforts.

Important data to track moving forward

This data story highlights a handful of indicators that can be tracked over time to determine if the region continues to make progress toward becoming an even more age-friendly place. Additional information worth tracking would include:


  • Locations accepting new Medicare patients


  • Informal social networks such as places of worship, community centers and other gathering places
  • Percentage of older adults volunteering in the region


  • Inventory of accessible buildings and housing

Thank you to the George Russill Fellowship for making this data story possible


Center for Neighborhood Technology and American Community Survey, 2005-2009.

Civic Life in America; Current Population Survey Civic Supplement. Administered by the Census Bureau

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rent (FMR), 2012.

Metro Regional Land Information Survey (RLIS) February 2012 Release

US Census Bureau 2010 Census

US Census Bureau (2010). American Community Survey 5-year estimates

US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service

US Social Security Administration




Evans, L. (2000). "Risks older drivers face themselves and threats they pose to other road users". International Journal of Epidemiology, 29, 315-322.

Jones, F. (1999). Seniors who volunteer. Perspectives on Labor and Income, 11(3), 9–17.

Kostyniuk, L. and J. Shope. (2003). “Driving and alternatives: Older drivers in Michigan”. Journal of Safety Research. 34 (2003) 407-414.

McFall, Brooke. (2011). "Crash and Wait? The Impact of the Great Recession on the Retirement Plans of Older Americans". American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 101(3): 40-44.

Schutzer, K. A., and Graves, B. S. (2004). “Barriers and motivations to exercise in older adults.” Preventive Medicine, 39, 1056 –106 U.S. 

Spain, D. (1997). “Societal Trends: The Aging Baby Boom and Women’s Increased Independence”. Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Dec. 1997.

World Health Organization website:

This indicator is based on information from credible sources. However, changes in collection methods and statistical procedures that have occurred over time may affect the data presented. Limitations that are acknowledged by the sources are noted below. Nevertheless, caution should be taken when interpreting all available data.