Gender, Age, Ethnicity, Class, and Nursing Home Usage

Around 1.4 million Americans currently live in nursing homes. Some groups, however, are more likely than others to find themselves in a nursing home.

Most strikingly, women are far more likely than men to become nursing home residents. Indeed, women now constitute some two-thirds of residents, partly because women more often live long enough to become enfeebled by age and partly because they more often survive their spouses, leaving no one to care for them if they need help.

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It is not surprising that older people are far more likely than others to live in nursing homes, and that residents overwhelmingly are older than age 75. However, the numbers of nursing home residents younger than age 65—indeed, younger than age 30—has grown significantly in the past decade because of the rise in diabetes and in gang violence, among other factors (Persson and Ostwald, 2009). Many young people stay in nursing homes only temporarily while recuperating from a serious illness or accident, but others stay for years. Still others find themselves in nursing homes because they have a mental illness or disability and have no one who can help them with basic daily tasks (such as preparing food or dressing themselves).

Regardless of why young people find themselves in nursing homes, their lives can be grim and isolating: Few have interests in common with their elderly co- residents, and many are in nursing homes in part because they have limited contact with their families.