Total U.S. population grew 9.7% between 2000 and 2010. In the same period Texas grew by 20.6%. The senior population growth (65 and older) in that period, U.S. vs. Texas was 15.0% vs. 25.5%. So, while Texas is growing faster than the U.S. average, the senior population is growing ever faster. So what does that mean other than providing work for those of us interested in aging? Well, it can mean a lot of things, most of them highly subjective and speculative.

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes

To me it means we must stop separating people into categories. Categories lead to stereotyping and that leads to assumptions about behavior and assumptions are always wrong. Miguel Ruiz says, “Don’t make assumptions.” And in his book The Four Agreements proceeds to tell us why we are always wrong when we do.

Now that all the demographers and epidemiologists are sputtering about the accuracy of their predictions about human behavior, let me quote from my bard, Sherlock Holmes, “… while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.” And so says I, about 6.5% of Texas’ 40.3 million people are over 65 (it’s smaller as a total size compared to the increase, but I digress) but when meeting any individual it’s unwise to assume anything about them.

An example from voting behavior policy. Palmore, Branch & Harris say the Senior Power Model assumes that older people vote cohesively, as a block on common issues. This is not the case, their voting decisions are as diverse as the general population. Another assumption of this model is that older people have a common stake and opinions about government sponsored old-age benefits and will vote accordingly. This too is not the case.

When we look at the beach, often all we see is sand, spreading and flowing down into the sea. If we squat down and pick up a grain of sand, we discover it is unique and probably has a story to tell of oceans and waves across millennia.


As an aside – Maria Konnikova writes a guest blog for Scientific American dealing with the lessons we can learn from Sherlock Holmes. She has not dealt with my particular quote but many of the entries discuss how we gather data and draw erroneous conclusions from it.



Castillo, J. Central Texas at forefront of U.S. boom in older citizens, Austin American Statesman, Thursday, December 1, 2011, p. 1,8.

Doyle, A. The Sign of Four. In the Complete Sherlock Holmes, Doubleday & Co., N.Y., 1930, p. 148.

Konnikova, M. Lessons from Sherlock Holmes. Blog series from Scientific American. Latest entry:

Palmore, EB, Branch, LG & Harris, DK. Encyclopedia of Ageism. Google Books, 2005, p. 251.

Ruiz, M. The Four Agreements. Amber-Allen Publishing, San Rafael, CA, 1997.

Illustration by Sidney Paget (1860 – 1908) (Strand Magazine) [Public domain]