A strong majority of Americans want to grow old in their cities

Two surveys, one from 2014 and one more recent, suggest many older Americans want to stay put:

But the vast majority of older Americans—more than 70 percent of those over 50, according to a 2014 AARP survey—plan to “age in place,” or stay in their homes or communities. And the desire to stay put persists across urban, suburban, and rural residents—even in Snow Belt cities and among those with the financial resources to buy that condo in Boca or Scottsdale…

Welltower, a company that owns health-care real estate, from retirement communities to outpatient medical office buildings, recently surveyed 3,000 people to find out more about this desire among urbanites to age in place. Respondents were of various ages—Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials—and lived in 10 cities across the country, from Seattle to Houston to Boston. One Canadian city—Toronto—was also included.

The survey showed that 7 out of 10 urbanites still want to live in their city after the age of 80. For Boomers, the share was higher, at 8 out of 10. The result was fairly uniform across the cities. Though some residents ranked their metropolises higher for livability for older residents—Washington, D.C., Miami, and Chicago got the highest marks, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City received the lowest—all respondents were still largely interested in staying and complimentary of their respective cities…

As CityLab reported earlier this year, this presents numerous challenges, especially for those who want to age in place. Only 1 percent of our housing stock is currently equipped with “universal design” elements that aid older residents, like no-step entrances, single-floor living, and wide halls and doorways. And more older adults also means more lower-income adults, who will struggle to afford the rent or mortgage, let alone modify their living space or employ in-home nursing care.

Three quick thoughts in response:

  1. While we know a lot about residential segregation due to race and class, could we be headed to scenarios where the elderly and younger adults live in very different environments? The two groups could be interested in very different urban features and differ on what amenities they should pay for through taxes. Some of these issues pop up from time to time when proposals are made for senior living facilities or there are requests for more school funding.
  2. What would happen if communities did not respond much to changes that would help the elderly? Would they revolt?
  3. Even though the elderly say they do not want to move, perhaps some cities and suburbs could gain a competitive edge by catering to this group. A neighborhood within a particular city could make changes so that while people would have to move, they would not necessarily have to go far. Or, certain communities could become regional centers for the elderly.

As this article notes, this demographic change is coming within the next few decades and it will be interesting to see how communities react.

Hard to counter China’s aging, even with change in one-child policy

The change in China’s one-child policy may not have much effect on its demographics:

“The population in China is going to continue to age,” said Kristin Bietsch, a research associate at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C. “Even though they’re hoping to increase their fertility, they’re still going to have a substantial population aging — and this is going to happen even with the increase in fertility.”…Adrian Raftery, a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, agreed: “The (United Nations) has already been projecting a small and slow increase in China’s fertility rates over the coming decades, and this news makes this even more likely to happen,” he said. “The increase is not likely to be large, though.”…

Like much of Europe, China’s population is aging rapidly — India’s population, now at 1.3 billion, is expected to surpass China’s within seven years, according to the United Nations…

But many demographers argue the birthrate would have fallen anyway as China’s economy developed and education levels rose. They foresee a looming crisis because the policy reduced the young labor pool that must support the large baby boom generation as it retires.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. See more about demographic transition here: as countries develop and have more wealth, residents have fewer children. Even as the one-child policy disappears, there may not be a rush to have two children.
  2. Governments have the ability to set policies such as these but one problem with influential policies is that they also need good timing. If the goal was to reduce the proportion of older residents, this change came late and it will now take more time to counteract the unintended consequences of the initial policy.
  3. I haven’t seen much about the real reasons China reversed this policy. Presumably, it has to do with aging – a modern society needs a broad base of young workers both for economic growth as well as to pay into the system to take care of older residents. Yet, this article brings up the population of India – might the shift also have to do with the population growth of India? Are there other reasons as well?

Increasing number of abandoned homes in Tokyo

As the population declines, Tokyo has more abandoned homes:

Despite a deeply rooted national aversion to waste, discarded homes are spreading across Japan like a blight in a garden. Long-term vacancy rates have climbed significantly higher than in the United States or Europe, and some eight million dwellings are now unoccupied, according to a government count. Nearly half of them have been forsaken completely – neither for sale nor for rent, they simply sit there, in varying states of disrepair.

These ghost homes are the most visible sign of human retreat in a country where the population peaked a half-decade ago and is forecast to fall by a third over the next 50 years. The demographic pressure has weighed on the Japanese economy, as a smaller workforce struggles to support a growing proportion of the old, and has prompted intense debate over long-term proposals to boost immigration or encourage women to have more children.

For now, though, after decades during which it struggled with overcrowding, Japan is confronting the opposite problem: When a society shrinks, what should be done with the buildings it no longer needs?…

Tokyo could end up being surrounded by Detroits,” said Tomohiko Makino, a real estate expert who has studied the vacant-house phenomenon. Once limited mostly to remote rural communities, it is now spreading through regional cities and the suburbs of major metropolises. Even in the bustling capital, the ratio of unoccupied houses is rising.

The population loss in Detroit and Tokyo are driven by different factors yet the Motor City could help other cities around the world think about what to do when the population decreases.

This particular article doesn’t talk much about negative consequences of having a lot of abandoned homes. Any problems with squatters? People tearing apart the buildings for scraps? Animals? Neighbors unhappy about the lack of upkeep? Bloated infrastructure costs that need to be reined in? Perhaps the consequences of abandoned homes are quite different across national contexts.

More older Americans dealing with mortgage debt

Retirement may look quite different for many Americans who have more mortgage debt than in the past:

Nearly a third of homeowners 65 and older had a mortgage in 2011, up from 22% in 2001, according to an analysis from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, using the latest available data.

The debt burden also grew — with older homeowners owing a median of $79,000 in 2011, compared with an inflation-adjusted $43,400 a decade earlier.

For decades, Americans strove hard to pay off their mortgages before retirement, an aspiration that when achieved was celebrated with mortgage-burning parties…

A recent study from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies showed that of mortgage holders ages 65 to 79, nearly half spent 30% or more of their income on housing costs. Of mortgage holders 80 or older, 61% pay that amount on housing.

This continues a trend noted last year. This is worth watching as a higher percentage of Americans are older and this particularly affects older residents in more expensive markets where housing options are not as cheap. Homeowners could have several options down the road. First, perhaps they shouldn’t buy homes close to retirement age. Unfortunately, this means they might not be as flexible in searching out new jobs. Second, they may have to sell at retirement and bank that money for future concerns. Yet, even if they can make a good return on selling their home, moving can still be a tough transition (even within a metro area as opposed to moving to significantly cheaper markets). Third, they may have to pursue other living arrangements at retirement such as renting rooms or small apartments in their dwelling to try to make some extra money.