Deciding Where to Live: The Emerging Residential Settlement Patterns of Retired Americans

By Golant, Stephen M. | Generations, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Deciding Where to Live: The Emerging Residential Settlement Patterns of Retired Americans


Golant, Stephen M., Generations


New forms of retirement enclaves.

Retirement is a pivotal life event that causes millions of people in their early 60s to reassess whether their current residential situation will be consistent with new lifestyle, work, family, and housing realities. Lifecourse theoretical models refer to these potential residential adjustments as the "first move" (Longino, 2001). At least initially, most retirees will opt to stay at their current addresses. A small percentage-although the number may be quite large-will radically change their residential milieus and choose to live in planned, "active adult" retirement communities, marketed to independent, healthy, and unimpaired people in their late 50s and older. Another group will also move, but to neighborhoods and communities that, while not specifically planned for older residents, will be predominantly occupied by their age group. This article focuses on the moving behavior of these different groups of retirees, the characteristics of their residential enclaves, and the factors that will contribute to their greater visibility over the next two decades.

Documenting the moving behavior of older people and speculating on future trends is becoming a favorite activity of academics, futurists, and journalists. Also closely monitoring these moves is the land and building development community, excited by the potential of the baby boomer market for their residential products. New demographic realities are the principal catalyst for this interest, and the numbers will be increasingly difficult to ignore. In the decade of the 1990s, the population age 55-64 increased by IS percent, while the Depression-born cohort increased the age65-to-74 population by a mere 1.6 percent. In contrast, the population in their mid 70s and older grew by more than 26 percent, and the oldest-old, in their mid 80s and older, grew by almost 38 percent. Thus, it is not surprising that very little attention has been paid to the younger and more active older-adult population for most of the past decade. Rather, the dominant emphasis has been on the frail and vulnerable elders who were confronting significant changes in their abilities to live independently and who required group housing options such as congregate living, assisted living, and continuing care options (Golant, 1992a, 1998a). The shelter and care demanded by decrements in this group's physical and cognitive functioning are catalysts for the the second and third moves identified in life-course models.

What a difference a new decade makes. While the growth of the frail elderly population guarantees a continued interest in the availability of cost-effective shelter and care alternatives for this group, younger retirees are a new focus. Between 2000 and 2010, the group age 55 to 64 is expected to increase by 48 percent, and the group age 65 to 74 by 16 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). When the first wave of baby boomers turns 65, between 2010 and 2020, the 65-to-74 age group is expected to increase by almost 49 percent. By 2010, even before the official 65th birthday of the first baby boomer, there will be more than 56.5 million people age 55 to 74 occupying some 33.5 million households, or an increase of over 8 million new consumers (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 2001). This will be a very diverse group of older adults, differing widely with respect to their financial, educational, ethnic, racial, and family-network makeup. Consequently, sweeping generalizations about this group will be inappropriate (Cornman and Kingson, 1996; Friedland and Summer, 1999; Roper Starch Worldwide,1999).

THE EMERGENCE OF DOUERs

The next two decades will see an increasingly greater number and share of townhouses, apartment buildings, subdivisions, neighborhoods, towns, communities, and even small cities that are predominantly occupied by older Americans. These new residential enclaves, which I call DOUERS (pronounced "doo-ers"), deliberately occupied but unplanned elder residences (Golant, 1998b), will be the product of two very deliberate types of residential behaviors. …

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