According to its mission statement, it is "a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 and over ... dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age," which "provides a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members." AARP operates as a non-profit advocate for its members, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, and also sells insurance, investment funds and other financial products. AARP claims over 38 million members, making it one of the largest membership organizations for people age 50 and over in the United States. Membership is expected to grow significantly as baby boomers age.
AARP was founded in 1958. AARP evolved from the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA). The organization was opened to all Americans over 50. Today, NRTA is an AARP division.
According to critics, until the 1980s AARP was controlled by businessman Leonard Davis, who promoted its image as a non-profit advocate of retirees in order to sell insurance to members. In the 1990s, the U.S. Senate and other government agencies investigated AARP's non-profit status.
The organization was originally named American Association of Retired Persons, but to reflect that its focus had become broader than American retirees, in 1999 it officially changed its name to just "AARP" (pronounced one letter at a time, "A-A-R-P"). AARP no longer requires that members be retired.
AARP is widely known for addressing issues affecting older Americans through a multitude of initiatives, including lobbying efforts at the state and national governmental level, an activity permitted by its 501(c)(4) status. The organization claims that it is non-partisan and does not support, oppose or give money to any candidates or political parties. AARP's total revenue for 2006 was approximately $1 billion and it spent $23 million on lobbying. 
AARP Services, Inc., founded in 1999, is a wholly owned subsidiary of AARP. AARP Services manages the wide range of products and services that are offered as benefits to AARP’s 38+ million members. The offers span health products, travel and leisure products, and life event services. Specific products include Medicare supplemental insurance; member discounts on rental cars, cruises, vacation packages and lodging; special offers on technology and gifts; pharmacy services; legal services; and long-term care insurance. AARP Services founded AARP Financial Incorporated, a subsidiary that manages AARP-endorsed financial products including AARP Funds. AARP Services develops new products, manages and markets products and services, creates and maintains partnership and sponsorship relationships, and develops and manages AARP’s Web site, AARP.org.
AARP Services founded AARP Financial Incorporated, a subsidiary that manages AARP-endorsed financial products including AARP Funds.
In an editorial column in the Los Angeles Times, critic Dale Van Atta says AARP does unauthorized lobbying for its membership, and lobbies against the best interests of its membership. Van Atta says that by lobbying for the above-mentioned Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, AARP leaders betrayed the membership.
According to an Annenberg Public Policy Center report, critics have said AARP had a conflict of interest in supporting the Act, because AARP “derives income from the sale of health and life insurance policies,” by licensing its brand to insurance dealers such as New York Life Insurance Company and would benefit financially from passage of the legislation.
BusinessWeek magazine says that in the past questions have arisen about whether AARP's commercial interests may conflict with those of its membership, and characterizes many of the funds and insurance policies that AARP markets as providing considerably less benefit than seniors could get on their own.
- Trust Betrayed: Inside the AARP by Dale Van Atta, Regnery Publishing, ISBN 0-89526-485-4
- The AARP: America's Most Powerful Lobby and the Clash of Generations, by Charles R. Morris, Crown, ISBN 0-8129-2753-2
- Will America Grow Up Before It Grows Old? How the Coming Social Security Crisis Threatens You, Your Family, and Your Country, by Peter G. Peterson, Random House, ISBN 0-679-45256-7
- Official website of the AARP
- AARP official history, financial reports, and mission statement
- A critical history of AARP by the competing organization, 60 Plus Association
- AARP Mission Statement
- AARP puts full force of nearly 38 million members behind Congress’ efforts to give Medicare Rx bargaining power, AARP news release, 1/5/07
- Krugman, Paul. "Demographics and Destiny", New York Times, 20 October 1996
- AARP History
- On Issues From Medicare to Medication, AARP's Money Will Be There Washington Post, 24 April 2007
- Leaders Betray Their Members by Lobbying for Medicare Drug Bill