The Aging Services Landscape: Public Perceptions

Download this visualization.

No group is more critical to how the aging services sector achieves its mission than the general public. Today, public perceptions are mixed: More than twice as many Americans view the aging services sector favorably (45%) as those who view it unfavorably (20%), but a large number of Americans (35%) say they do not know how they view the sector. The good news? These numbers suggest the sector does not face an extreme public perception crisis--but there is a real need and opportunity to improve the public’s understanding of the field.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on older adults--and eroded views of some providers. The public does have a negative bias against nursing homes, thanks in part to the media’s almost exclusive emphasis on negative stories. But consumers do not widely blame nursing homes for the tragedies of COVID.

Many parts of the field are viewed positively by the public. In fact, the majority (68%) of people who have had direct experience with aging services say it was a positive experience, most often citing quality as the reason. Quality is also a factor in why Americans have a more favorable view of nonprofits (63%) than for-profits (47%): they consider the quality of nonprofits more favorably. Care professionals are also held in high esteem by the public, who describe them as compassionate, dedicated, essential, and professional.

These positive perceptions may stem from an overall view of how older adults are treated in our country. Fewer than half of all Americans agree that older adults are treated well in the United States, and 83% believe that “elected officials have failed older adults and the people who care for them by ignoring and underfunding America's aging services for decades.” The public expects the government to play a role in ensuring that older adults are taken care of and overwhelmingly supports a greater public investment in aging services.

Public views on the sector have a uniquely “American” character to them. For example, the public deeply values our right to the essentials that allow us to live with meaning and purpose and they place high value on supporting independence and health as we age.

But fear and denial of aging also play an indisputable role in perceptions. The rugged individualism that is deeply embedded in our nation’s lore, combined with long-persisting ageism, has a stubborn impact on how the public views older adults and aging services. Despite these challenges, the positive experiences with the sector and those who work in it point to real opportunities to increase understanding of the aging services sector.

To learn more about the research and detailed findings that inform this analysis, check out these resources:

Go back to the Opening Doors for Aging Services research page.