The numbers are astounding: By the year 2030, 73 million Americans will be aged 65 or older. Ten years later, the population of persons aged 80 and older will increase to 28 million – with more than half of that number being aged 85 or older. Those reaching the age of 65 today can expect to live about 20 more years, depending upon gender.
Thanks to the baby boomer generation, the U.S. will be hosting a large population of older persons far into the future, raising a salient question: Where will these boomers live?
Housing needs will change
The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has done some research on this question, and found that the U.S. is poorly prepared for the future onslaught of older baby boomers. The center's most recent report (link opens a PDF) sounds the alarm on many fronts, noting that current housing options lack features that would allow disabled boomers to live in their own homes.
Compounding this problem is housing affordability. The JCHS study points out that one-third of those aged 50 and over spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The worst off are boomers who still have a mortgage on their homes, and those who rent. Of those groups, 23% and 30%, respectively, spend over 50% of their income on housing costs.
Disability is a game-changer
For older, disabled Americans, aging in place can be difficult. Most of the U.S. housing stock has not been altered to accommodate issues with mobility, for example. Whereas many of these older persons require single-floor living, accessible electrical controls, and wider doorways and halls, very few actually have homes that fit that description.
Although major disability does not strike most people until age 80 or so, fixing a home to fit the homeowner's needs would likely be beyond the financial scope of older Americans, since income tends to decrease with age.
Most boomers want to stay put
Overwhelmingly, Americans want to stay in their homes as they age. A 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (link opens a PDF) noted that only 3% of those 65 and older moved residences in the prior year, compared with 14% of people under the age of 65.
This is borne out by a recent research note from Fannie Mae (link opens a PDF). Despite chatter about boomers downsizing, the paper states, the trend is just the opposite – boomers are clinging to their single-family homes, including those who have already retired. The note acknowledges, however, that this trend cannot go on forever, as the cost and effort associated with home maintenance will force boomers to make other housing choices.
What are the housing choices for baby boomers?
As America attempts to prepare for the graying of its population, what options are there? If, as Fannie Mae points out, single-family ownership becomes out of the question, where will boomers go?
One possibility is senior housing, which you would think would be the best option for older persons, particularly those with mobility issues. The overall reluctance to move, however, will complicate this solution, and this attitude isn't particular to baby boomers. Even the generation previous to the boomers' eschews senior living communities, where the average age of new inhabitants is now 84 years.
Until boomers reach their eighties, it seems, making their current homes aging-friendly seems to be the best route to take. This will take money, however, and many older Americans will not be able to afford such expensive renovations on their own.
As a nation, are we willing to commit funding to such an endeavor? The JCHS report points out that the healthcare costs associated with older people falling was estimated at $30 billion in 2010. Preventing such injuries will pay for itself in many ways, not the least of which is the decline in general health that often follows such an event. As our nation grows older, dedicating public money to aging-in-place projects would be money well spent.
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