Americans are easing into their middle years, as growing numbers of maturing Baby Boomers boost the nation's median age to a record high of just over 32 years.

The 35-44 age group represents the leading edge of the post-World War II Baby Boom and is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.And the population segments aged 85 and over and 75-84 rank second and third in growth since 1980, the Bureau said.

This combination helped boost the nation's median age to 32.1 years as of last July 1, the highest ever.

"The `Graying of America' is . . . documented by its increasing age," observed bureau statistician Louisa Miller.

Up from 31.8 in 1986, the median means that half of all Americans are older than that age and half younger.

By race, blacks remain younger than whites, although both groups are maturing.

For whites, the median age hit 33 for the first time, up from 32.7 in 1986. Black median age was 27.2, up from 26.9 and the first time that group had surpassed 27.

The nation's median age first reached 30 in 1950, but the rapid growth of the Baby Boom that was then occurring pulled it back down in the following years. The Baby Boom consists of the estimated 20 million Americans born between 1946 and 1965.

With the maturing of the Baby Boomers, the median has begun moving in the other direction. The growing elderly population has also helped raise the median, as improved medical care extends life-spans.

"The repercussions of the Baby Boom are many and varied," Miller said. "They will continue to affect the United States for many years to come."

They are now at the age where they have more discretionary income, and the effect can be seen in the nation's culture and marketing.

The generation's arrival spurred a boom in sales of baby products. It then proceeded to overwhelm the school system, following up with creation of a national orientation toward teenage music and styles.

Now, as the Baby Boomers set up more and smaller households, they are prompting a boom in housing sales and household goods, marketing experts say.

"Further down the road, once they begin to reach retirement age, they will obviously have a great effect on the direction the country takes," Miller added.