The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), was developed by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Elder Index is a measure of the income that older adults need to meet their basic needs and age in place with dignity. The Elder Index is specific to household size, location, housing tenure, and health status. It includes the cost of:
- Health Care
- Miscellaneous Essentials
“The Elder Index allows researchers to tailor the adequacy measure to the elderly while still providing a relatively simple way to evaluate retirement security.
—Congressional Budget Office (2017). Measuring the adequacy of retirement income: A primer.
Definitions of Elder Index Expenses
Elder Index rent expenses are based on values reported by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD reports Fair Market Rents (FMRs) by county and number of bedrooms. These values typically reflect the 40th percentile of rent costs in an area. In some cases, the HUD FMR values reflect the 50th percentile of rent costs. The Elder Index for renters assumes that the elder individual or couple rents a one-bedroom apartment.
Housing expenses for owners are based on median “selected monthly owner costs” as reported by the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data. Values are for owners age 65 and older, shown separately for units with and without a mortgage. Selected monthly owner costs include property taxes, insurance, fuels and utilities, condo fees and mortgage payments (if any).
Elder Index health care costs include Medicare Part B health insurance premiums and out-of-pockets costs. Average costs are calculated assuming Medicare Advantage (with prescription coverage) costs or separate Medigap Supplement and Medicare Part D coverage. Data are drawn from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Elder Index food costs are based on the USDA Low-Cost Food Plan, which presents a diet meeting nutritional standards for different age groups and consisting entirely of foods prepared and eaten at home. The official Food Plan budgets are scaled by family size to reflect economies of scale.
Transportation expenses are estimated based on the assumption of private automobile usage. The typical annual miles driven by singles and by couples are estimated based on the National Household Travel Survey. Mileage estimates are stratified by geographic region, and by population size of the county. Transportation expenses are calculated by multiplying the estimated mileage driven by singles and by couples by the IRS mileage reimbursement cost.
The miscellaneous expense category includes all other essentials, such as clothing, household items, personal hygiene items, and telephone service. It does not allow for recreation, entertainment, gifts, or savings. Miscellaneous expenses are estimated as 20% of all other costs, based on the remaining costs for elders living in an owned home with no mortgage. This same expenditure is applied to the other housing scenarios, separately for singles and couples.
For more information on the data and methods used to calculate the Elder Index, please see The National Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index: Methodology Overview.
Reports based on the Elder Index are available on our website.