How Many Retired People Live in California (Part 2)

Day two of my search for a number: “How Many Retired People Live in California?”

Well, I googled on “how many retired people live in California” and came up with some interesting sites: some publications by the Public Policy Institute of California (; and a report hidden on the website of the “Retirement Security All: California” ( (report in PDF format: “Aging California’s Retirement Crisis: State and Local Resources”.) These are great resources, but just don’t answer my question.

It is just readily apparent that the simplest solution is to re-pose the question: “How Many Persons of Retirement Age Live In California?” If we accept that premise, then it’s a lot easier to find that information from the American Community Survey!!

So, I went to American Factfinder, loaded in my previous query for the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS), and searched on “age”. I found Table S0103: “Population Age 65 Years and Over in the United States.” This couldn’t be any simpler. (Well, the above-mentionedĀ  “loaded in my previous query” is a bit geeky, so I may need another blog post/page to explain!)

In 2015, California had a total population of 39 million persons. Over 5 million Californians are of retirement age, that is, age 65 and over. This is over 13 percent of the total population in California.

(I’m not a journalist, and my writing skills are getting rusty. I don’t have a “city desk editor” to help me right now, so bear with me!)

The actual, un-rounded numbers for California are 39,144,818 total persons; and 5,189,558 persons age 65+. (If I was a journalist/reporter/data wonk, I’d recommend keeping the un-rounded numbers and the table source in my back pocket, just to help the editors and fact-checkers.)

I can imagine a conversation with my boss:

  • Boss: So, how many retired people live in California?
  • Me: Over 5 million people of retirement age (65+) lived in California in 2015
  • Boss: That’s interesting, but I asked about number of retirees, not retirement age!
  • Me: Sorry, you must have misunderstood your question! <grinning, ducking, running>

The basic problem is that “persons of retirement age” doesn’t capture the nuances of who is and who isn’t retired. Some folks are early retirees: in their 50s and early 60s. Some folks are full-time or part-time workers in the 70s and 80s and beyond! And the additional monkey wrench is that some persons may not be in the labor force but may be fully engaged as volunteer workers, or homemakers, or they might be disabled, or a combination of any and all of these personal characteristics. It sounds messy.

I then tried a different approach, googling “What is the Average Age of Retirement in California?”

This turned up a fascinating study by the folks at “The Average Age of Retirement in Every State in 2015.” They found that the average age of retirement in the US is 63 years of age.


SmartAsset has a great chart which shows the US Labor Force Participation Rate, by detailed age categories (4o to 80+). I may quibble with the terminology, since I’m interpreting their “average age of 63” as the “break-point age at which 50 percent of people are in the labor force and 50 percent of people are not in the labor force.” This sounds like a median to me, but the analysis appears spot on and an excellent approach to solving this knotty problem of counting the number of retirees!

This post is getting long, so I’ll quit here, and continue my data mining tomorrow!


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