Civil Rights of the Elderly

The elderly, or senior citizens, are vulnerable to civil rights abuses due to a propensity for sickness, disability, and poverty.


  • Discuss the civil rights issues that affect the elderly in the United States


  • Senior citizens are those Americans who are older than the retirement age and who are therefore eligible for state benefits.
  • American population shifts have caused the elderly population to expand significantly in recent decades, and it is expected to grow until 2020.
  • The Older Americans Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are two pieces of civil rights legislation intended to protect the elderly population.


  • Older Americans ActThe first federal level initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults.
  • retirement ageThe age after which a person is eligible for senior citizen benefits, currently 65 in the United States.
  • senior citizenAn old person, generally, a senior citizen is considered to be over 60 years of age or over the retirement age.



The elderly, sometimes referred to as senior citizens in the United States, are a demographic group usually defined by being retired or over the retirement age (which is dependent on life expectancy changes). Due to demographic shifts, including increased life expectancy and high birth rates in the post-World War II era, the United States population has grown older in recent years. As of 1990, only 4% of Americans were over 65; by 2000, 12% were; and demographers estimate that by 2020, 17% will be in that age group.

Civil Rights Issues Affecting the Elderly

Because of a propensity for illness, disability, and lack of employment, the elderly are faced with unique civil rights challenges. Government policies throughout the twentieth century were aimed at meeting the unique needs of elderly Americans. For example, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Social Security Act funded medical care for aging Americans. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) into law. This legislation specifically sought to provide equal opportunity for the enjoyment of adequate income in retirement, adequate health care, housing, long-term care, recreation, community services, freedom and self-determination, and protection against abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The OAA provides funding to states for the provision of services on the basis of the percentage of the population over the age of 60. Recipients of the OAA benefits are disproportionately poor, female, rural, and African American, as these elderly populations are particularly vulnerable.

Retirement Home

A large component of non-monetary compensation is retirement funding and similar benefits. Employers will often offer matching or retirement accounts for employees.

Additionally, in 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This law forbids employment discrimination against anyone who is at least 40 years old in the United States; the denial of benefits based on age; mandatory retirement; and prohibits statements of age preferences in job notices or advertisements. The law attempts to address company policies that force elderly employees out of work once they become eligible for government retirement benefits or due to prejudice against the elderly.