Study Finds Bankruptcy Filing Rate by Older Americans Outpaces the General Population

Study Finds Bankruptcy Filing Rate by Older Americans Outpaces the General Population

Contact: John Hartgen
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April 26, 2007, Alexandria, Va. — A recent study reveals that bankruptcy filings by older Americans age 55 and over are increasing at a faster rate than the general population. John Golmant and Tom Ulrich, researchers at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC), conducted their study by comparing chapter 7 and 13 consumer filing data from 1994 and 2002 to examine how age demographics affect bankruptcy filings. The results of the study are summarized in their article titled “Aging and Bankruptcy: The Baby Boomers Meet Up at Bankruptcy Court,” published in the May 2007 issue of the American Bankruptcy Institute Journal.

The study confirms that filing rates for Americans ages 45 and over are increasing larger than any other age category of bankruptcy petitioners. The study found that bankruptcy petitioners over the age of 45 increased from 27 percent of all filers in 1994 to 39 percent in 2002. The fastest growth in chapter 7 filings occurred for petitioners over the age of 55. The study also found a general aging of the debtor population, with the median age for bankruptcy petitioners rising from 37.7 in 1994 to 41.4 by 2002.

In contrast to the trend of increased filing rates experienced by older Americans, the age group with the greatest drop in bankruptcy filing rates was among those age 25 and younger. The filing rate for young people decreased from 11 percent of the overall bankruptcy petitioners in 1994 to 4 percent in 2002. 

In conducting their research, Golmant and Ulrich looked to determine the proportion of bankruptcy petitioners that fall within particular age categories and whether these proportions have changed over time. While previous demographic studies primarily relied on survey data to find out more about the filing rates of different age groups, the researchers evaluated actual data from courts and public records available through outside resources.

The study concludes that a number of factors are behind the rising “Baby Boomer” bankruptcy filing rate. Golmant and Ulrich point to the growing amount of mortgage debt carried by older Americans as they tap into their home equity, and rising health care costs as primary reasons behind the growing bankruptcy rate for those 55 years of age and older. Facing reduced income in retirement and escalating health care costs, the researchers said they expect that the increasing bankruptcy filing rates for older Americans will persist into the foreseeable future.

To obtain a copy of “Aging and Bankruptcy: The Baby Boomers Meet Up at Bankruptcy Court,” please contact John Hartgen at 703-739-0800 or via email at [email protected].


ABI is the largest multi-disciplinary, nonpartisan organization dedicated to research and education on matters related to insolvency. ABI was founded in 1982 to provide Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues. The ABI membership includes more than 11,000 attorneys, accountants, bankers, judges, professors, lenders, turnaround specialists and other bankruptcy professionals, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and information. For additional information on ABI, visit For additional conference information, visit