The U.S. population 65 and older is now the largest in terms of size and percent of the population, compared with any previous census, according to the new 2010 Census data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The group grew at a faster rate than the total population between 2000 and 2010.

According to the 2010 Census, 40.3 million people were 65 and older on April 1, 2010, increasing by 5.3 million since the 2000 Census when this population numbered 35.0 million. The percentage of the population 65 and older also increased during the previous decade. In 2010, this population represented 13.0 percent of the total population, an increase from 12.4 percent in 2000.

65 and Older Population Grew Faster than Total Population

Between 2000 and 2010, the population 65 and older grew 15.1 percent, while the total U.S. population grew 9.7 percent. The opposite happened between 1990 and 2000 when the growth of the older population was slower than the growth of the total population, with growth rates of 12.0 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively.

Population Size and Growth Varied Among the Older Age Groups

The growth of 10-year age groups within the older population showed that 85- to 94-year-olds experienced the fastest growth between 2000 and 2010. This group grew by 29.9 percent, increasing from 3.9 million to 5.1 million.

Among five-year age groups in the older population, 65- to 69-year-olds grew the fastest. This age group grew by 30.4 percent, rising from 9.5 million to 12.4 million. The 65- to 69-year-old group is expected to grow more rapidly over the next decade as the first baby boomers start turning 65 in 2011, the Census Bureau said.

Males experienced more rapid growth than females in the older ages

The male population logged higher growth in the older population than females over the decade. While females continue to outnumber males in the older ages, the population of males continued to close the gap over the decade by increasing at a faster rate than females. The largest growth rate for a ten-year age group was for males 85 to 94 years old (46.5 percent).

The female population in this age group also increased but to a smaller degree (22.9 percent). When five-year age groups are compared, males 90 to 94 years old had the largest growth rate (50.3 percent) while females in this age group grew by 23.3 percent.

Future growth of the older population is both highly probable and unprecedented in the United States, said Carrie Werner, U.S. Census Bureau statistician.