Millions of Seniors Increasingly Ready to Return to Public

Study finds statewide mask mandates and vaccination rates may not dictate older adults' return to shopping and crowds

Published April 12, 2021

Key Findings

  • On January 6, over 28 million older adults in the U.S. said they weren’t ready to return to shopping in public or being in crowded places. By March 29, nearly 8 million fewer seniors reported the same concern, a 28% drop since January.

  • There is no apparent evidence of a correlation between older adults’ comfort returning to public and local vaccination rates or mask mandates. 

  • Seniors in Nebraska, Mississippi and Tennessee are the most comfortable returning to public at this stage in the pandemic recovery.

  • Seniors in Vermont, Washington D.C. and Connecticut remain the most reluctant to return to public.

Study Overview

After a year that required many to seclude themselves due to the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s senior adults are beginning to return to public life. 

Over 60% of the population age 65 and older are fully vaccinated as of April 11. So what does this mean for their willingness to go back to a life of shopping in public places and exposing themselves to crowds of potentially infected people, especially as adoption of online shopping has spiked among baby boomers and seniors during the pandemic?1

Using data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, we determined just how comfortable older adults (age 65 and older) are becoming with a return to crowds and shopping in public places, and we analyzed the geographic data to explore whether statewide mask mandates or a state’s vaccination rate affected how many older adults in the state say they’re ready to return to a more public life.

As you can see from the graph below, there is an unsurprising correlation between seniors’ level of concern about returning to public and COVID-19 infections.

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Graph showing falling rates of COVID-19 infection and falling rates of older adults reporting discomfort with going into public and crowds

Reported COVID-19 infections plummeted from more than 2.9 million cases reported during Jan. 6-18 to fewer than 800,000 cases reported during March 3-15. During the same two-month period, the number of seniors who reported concerns about returning to public places dropped by some 17 percent. 

Do State Vaccination Rates or Mask Mandates Improve Senior Confidence in Public Shopping?

It’s easy to understand why a decrease in reported COVID-19 cases may lead seniors to feel more comfortable with shopping in public and being around crowds. But could other factors such as vaccination rates or state mask mandates help explain why seniors in some states feel more comfortable than others?

None of the three states (Nebraska, Mississippi and Tennessee) where concern about returning to public has fallen the sharpest among seniors currently have mask mandates in place. And two of these three states have vaccination rates currently lagging behind the national average rate of 21.3%.2

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Table list of fifteen states where the highest number of older adults report comfort going back to public shopping and crowded places

In fact, among the five states where the highest numbers of older adults report increasing levels of comfort with a return to public life, only Hawaii has a statewide mask mandate in place and a vaccination rate higher than the national average. 

Tennessee has the fourth lowest vaccination rate in the country and no statewide mask mandate, but the state has the third highest rate of seniors who say they've grown comfortable returning to public places. 

When analyzing the states where seniors remain the most reluctant about returning to crowded spaces, the evidence of a correlation between vaccination rates or mask mandates and reported comfort in returning to public is just as scant. 

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Table listing the 15 states where most seniors are reluctant to return to public due to COVID-19 infection concerns

Each of the seven states where the highest number of seniors are still reluctant to return to public have a mask mandate in place, and five of the top six have a vaccination rate at or above the national average. 

New Mexico has the highest vaccination rate in the U.S. at more than 26%, but seniors there still displayed the ninth highest rate of reluctance about returning to public, even with a statewide mask mandate in place. 

Conclusion

America’s older adults are becoming more comfortable with returning to crowds and public places. The most evident reason for the increased comfort levels is a dropping number of overall reported COVID-19 infections. 

While a vaccinated senior may be more comfortable going out in public, there is no evidence to suggest that state vaccination rates as a whole are contributing to increased comfort levels. There is also no evidence of a correlation between comfort levels and statewide mask mandates. 

Methodology

The data used for this report came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, specifically weeks 22 to 26 (January 6 through March 15).

The formula used to calculate the states with the most people age 65 and older who reported being comfortable going into public or crowded areas is as follows: (Week 26-week 22)/week 22*100.

To identify states with current mask mandates, we used the AARP’s “State-by-State Guide to Face Mask Requirements”. For the percent of the population vaccinated in each state, we relied on the CDC’s COVID-19 Tracker. ​

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

Research and reports

Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits, and more.

 

1 CNN. Tracking America’s recovery. Sales trends by segment [interactive chart]. Retrieved April 12 from https://www.cnn.com/business/us-economic-recovery-coronavirus.

2 Adams K, Anderson M. States ranked by percentage of population vaccinated: April 11. Becker’s Hospital Review. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/public-health/states-ranked-by-percentage-of-population-vaccinated-march-15.html.