Signs of the “demographic train wreck” in retirement colonies in Florida

One commentator suggests the expansion of retirement in Florida hints at larger demographic changes in the United States:

“There is a demographic train wreck coming that we are not really addressing nationally or in Florida,” says Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness.Over the next 20 years, the number of adults over 62 in the U.S. will double to 80 million, as the largest generation in American history retires. A demographic model that once looked like a pyramid, with a relatively small number of seniors with lots of younger people to support them, now more closely resembles a bobble-head doll. Right now in the U.S., four working age adults support each retiree. In 20 years, that ratio will slip to three to one nationally — and two to one in Florida…

Yet after years of stagnant population growth, Florida is adding new residents again, especially in those areas where it is growing gray. According to projections from Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, more than half of the five million migrants expected to flow into the state over the next 18 years will be 60 or older. This elderly population boom, fueled by the retirement of the Baby Boomers, the biggest generation in U.S. history, will profoundly change the face of Florida from a state that is simply very old, to a state with one of the oldest populations on the planet.

If it seems like there are a lot of wrinkled faces crowding the aisles at the Publix grocery store in Boca Raton now, just wait. By 2030, one in four Floridians will be older than 65, up from one in six today, with the 85-plus set the fastest-growing group, according to projections…

“Basically you are asking a bunch of old retired rich white people to vote for school bonds that benefit immigrant Latino kids,” says Jennifer Hochschild, a Harvard University professor who studies the intersection of politics, immigration and education. “This is a potential political disaster.”

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Currently, it sounds like developers have figured out there is quite a market for such retirement communities. I have wondered why these haven’t seem to have caught on in the same scalein more northern, even considering the weather.

Should retirees have the right or make the possibly wrong choice for the larger society by moving into more isolated communities of people their own age? I’m sure there are class and race differences present here as well – not everyone has the resources to move to Florida in their golden years. What happens when all of these older residents can no longer live in these communities and require more care?

Demographics suggest don’t invest in McMansions; invest in group homes

Looking at the demographic trends in the United States, one analyst suggests investors shouldn’t look to McMansions but rather group homes:

A large majority of older Americans want to remain in their homes, and more importantly, in their communities. The homes they raised their families in might not suit their purposes any longer, so what are their options? In 2005 (before the housing crises) a survey was taken by AARP of adults over the age of 50, and they reported that the homes they currently lived in wouldn’t accommodate them “very well” as they aged. So these seniors have a push-pull of wanting to “age in place” but their homes aren’t suitable for them to remain independent.

Seniors in the early stage of making a housing transition will remain in owner-occupied or rental housing and live independently. Only about 4.7 percent live in a group home and 7-10 percent live in a senior facility.

I see group homes as an area of opportunity. Group homes could become the answer for many seniors. I have been preaching for the last year or two that new homeowners aren’t looking for McMansions. New buyers (Echo Boomers and younger) want something simpler that gives them more flexibility. So what will happen to these McMansions? Group homes could be perfect. Many of these homes were built with private baths attached to each bedroom, large kitchens and great rooms. These homes can be adapted for disabilities by adding lifts and rails in bathrooms, for example. Then these homes can operate very well as group homes. This can give seniors the option to stay within their community, but not be isolated. Not to mention it’s a cash cow for investors, I’ve seen these kind of properties create a 100% positive cash flow (this would include covering the debt service).

As seniors make the enevitable change they will release much more housing than they absorb, but it will be absorbed by newly formed households. For example, between 2000 and 2010, people who began the decade age 55+ moved out of 10.5 million housing units. Most of these were owner-occupied dwellings. During the same period households grew (under the age of 55) by 21.8 million. Thus leaving about 11.2 million new households needing housing. Take into consideration that forty percent of this time was during a major recession where we saw much slower household formation.

I can see two quick issues with group homes. First, some of these places today are very expensive as they can require residents to buy a unit and pay extra fees on top of this. Second, communities would have to approve the zoning necessary for these homes.

This reminds me of Kate Bollick’s Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies.” She ends the story by discussing a “dormitory” for women in Amsterdam that helps provide community while giving adults some individual space. Bollick suggests this sort of living space could be the wave of the future but I think it might take some time to catch on in the United States.


87 year old Indian man wants to pursue sociology degree

I was intrigued when I saw a story describing the interest an 87 year old Indian man has in pursuing a sociology degree:

Sudan is perhaps the oldest man in the country to appear for the BA (Part II) exams of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). The students and invigilators could not hide their joy at seeing the old man bubbling with enthusiasm to pass the examination.

Born in 1925, Sudan completed his matriculation in 1941 and soon got a job in the postal department.After retiring from services in 1983 as post master for Jammu circle, he started his own life insurance marketing services…

“I got excited when I watched my grandchildren studying. I wanted to emulate them and so I decided to join them and pursue my higher education,” said Sudan…

Sudan wants to pursue research in sociology after completing his graduation and masters. “My first target is graduation and then masters. If I am alive I will go for research in this subject,” he said.

It would be interesting to hear why exactly this man is interested in sociology. Did he realize after 87 years that there is still plenty to learn about human interaction? Is there a particular puzzle about people that still interests him? Is there something in particular that he saw that he wants to explain? His explanation could also be related to a common charge against sociology: “it’s just all common sense.” One can assume this 87 year old man is not happy enough with his “common sense” and wants to find out more.

Another question of mine: does the average 87 year old have more insight into human nature and behavior than younger people? In other words, how much does life experience really contribute to understanding the world? I would guess life experience can get you somewhere but simply growing older doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom.

How important are long-time residents to a neighborhood or a community?

A profile of a New York City woman who has lived 100 years in the same neighborhood (along a 1,200 foot stretch) raises an interesting question: how much do long-time residents contribute to a community?

Ms. Jacobs is already a demographic rarity: she was one of 2,126 city residents 100 and over recorded in the 2010 census. But even though very few New Yorkers can claim a century spent in essentially one place, the notion of maintaining roots on a street is not entirely uncommon, said Andrew A. Beveridge, a Queens College sociologist.

A decade ago, Professor Beveridge recalled, one of his students interviewed a man of about 100 who had lived his entire life in the same house in Richmond Hill, Queens.

Bruce D. Haynes, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, who grew up in Harlem, said that his own father spent the better part of 65 years in a house on Convent Avenue in its Sugar Hill section, until his death in 1995.

“I’d argue that these are the people who make the city what it is,” said Professor Haynes, whose grandfather, George Edmund Haynes, was a co-founder of the National Urban League. “They are the character of the city.”

At first glance, it seems hard to argue with this: people who live in a community for decades are anchors and connect newer generations to what has happened in the past. However, doesn’t this presuppose that these long-term residents are active in their community, meaning that other people know who they are? Just because one lives long in a community does not necessarily mean one is active in it. Additionally, don’t the younger people have to want this connection? Bruce Haynes comments are a great example: his grandfather was involved in an important civic group. Particularly in their older years, might not some long-time residents end up isolated (an issue sociologist Eric Klinenberg discusses in Heat Wave)? Are there studies that have actually measured what the positive effects of having long-time residents in the community?

More broadly, this article celebrates Ms. Jacob’s rootedness. This is a common tension in American life: should people be rooted in their communities or should they be mobile, responding to changing circumstances? On the whole, we tend to be a mobile nation where on average people move at least once every ten years. Yet, we also like the idea that some people care about their community so much (or can’t afford to move?) that they stay put in one place.


The challenges of Going Solo in the suburbs

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg argues that it is particularly difficult to live alone in the suburbs:

Q: What do cities and the housing industry need to be thinking about in terms of homes for this wave of single people?

A: One thing I worry about is that we have built suburban areas that won’t fit our future lifestyles. I interviewed many older people who live alone in suburban areas who discovered that they weren’t good places to be when their children moved away because they tended not to have good areas for walking and often were far from public transportation. The houses themselves were too big, making them expensive to heat and cool; more house than most people need. And the suburbs are reluctant to retrofit. They don’t want to change their zoning laws to deal with reality.

The thing I’m most concerned about is housing for poor people of any age who wind up living alone. We need to rethink this whole idea of the single-room-occupancy building. I write in my book about one very successful SRO experiment in New York that had a mix of incomes, not just the otherwise-homeless people who today are associated with SROs. It became sort of a vertical village and ended up being replicated in other places.

We need to design more housing like that. But it’s expensive, and cities are strapped for resources. And it’s not like the group that needs it the most has any political clout; they’re the most vulnerable people in our society.

Klinenberg brings up an issue that has been raised for decades: certain age groups don’t do well in the suburbs. If I remember correctly, Herbert Gans brings this up in the classic study The Levittowners and these issues are also raised in Suburban Nation by Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck. These observers suggest two groups are particularly disadvantaged: teenagers who can’t yet drive and who want freedom and the elderly who can no longer drive and are now more isolated in their single-family homes. Both of these groups are united by the necessity of driving in the suburbs and how driving is tied to completing daily subsistence tasks (such as getting food) as well as social interaction.

As Klinenberg suggests, building this kind of alternative housing in the suburbs (and cities) will be difficult. Not only is it expensive but I imagine many suburbanites would not desire such housing near their own houses. At the same time, this is a recognized problem in a number of communities: how can communities help the elderly live in the towns they have spent much of their lives in?

Elderly co-housing in France an alternative to Going Solo in the United States?

While Americans may be increasingly living alone, Le Monde reports on another trend: co-housing among the elderly.

This unconventional but pragmatic solution is happening all over France – dozens of house-shares have already been created, and they are giving food for thought to many in their 60s, 70s and 80s…

According to Yankel Fijalkow, urban sociologist and author of “Sociologie du Logement” [Sociology of Housing], “House-sharing for the elderly is a sort of group response to the ambient individualism.” Fijalkow says. “It is part of the same phenomenon as co-housing – houses with shared facilities – in Northern Europe and the United States or housing cooperatives. Faced by the fragility of the family unit, a desire emerges to recreate a quasi-family.”

But Fijalkow adds: “Let’s not be idealistic. Accommodation is expensive, and this is mostly a commercial transaction. With the current changes in family models, we go from being part of a couple to living on our own or in a house-share. People are flexible and adapt when the housing market is prohibitively expensive.”…

This system is being adopted all over Europe. Colocation Seniors, an organization in the western French city of Nantes was inspired by a similar project in Belgium, and has already helped dozens of seniors set up house-shares in the last three years, offering continuing support even after the house-share has been organized.

It is hard to know from this article how big of a trend this really is.

It is interesting to hear Fijalkow talk about these two motivating factors: a desire to have a “quasi-family” and economic realities. Which of these are more important? Does this suggest that people with more economic resources would not choose co-housing? It is already a foregone conclusion in many places that most families are fragile and/or past the breaking point?

This also reminds of the end of Kate Bolick’s article “All the Single Ladies” from November 2011. Here is where Bolick ends her thoughts on current relationships between women and men – a tour of a sort of dormitory for single women in Amsterdam:

The Begijnhof is big—106 apartments in all—but even so, I nearly pedaled right past it on my rented bicycle, hidden as it is in plain sight: a walled enclosure in the middle of the city, set a meter lower than its surroundings. Throngs of tourists sped past toward the adjacent shopping district. In the wall is a heavy, rounded wood door. I pulled it open and walked through.

Inside was an enchanted garden: a modest courtyard surrounded by classic Dutch houses of all different widths and heights. Roses and hydrangea lined walkways and peeked through gates. The sounds of the city were indiscernible. As I climbed the narrow, twisting stairs to Ellen’s sun-filled garret, she leaned over the railing in welcome—white hair cut in a bob, smiling red-painted lips. A writer and producer of avant-garde radio programs, Ellen, 60, has a chic, minimal style that carries over into her little two-floor apartment, which can’t be more than 300 square feet. Neat and efficient in the way of a ship, the place has large windows overlooking the courtyard and rooftops below. To be there is like being held in a nest.

We drank tea and talked, and Ellen rolled her own cigarettes and smoked thoughtfully. She talked about how the Dutch don’t regard being single as peculiar in any way—people are as they are. She feels blessed to live at the Begijnhof and doesn’t ever want to leave. Save for one or two friends on the premises, socially she holds herself aloof; she has no interest in being ensnared by the gossip on which a few of the residents thrive—but she loves knowing that they’re there. Ellen has a partner, but since he’s not allowed to spend the night, they split time between her place and his nearby home. “If you want to live here, you have to adjust, and you have to be creative,” Ellen said. (When I asked her if starting a relationship was a difficult decision after so many years of pleasurable solitude, she looked at me meaningfully and said, “It wasn’t a choice—it was a certainty.”)

When an American woman gives you a tour of her house, she leads you through all the rooms. Instead, this expat showed me her favorite window views: from her desk, from her (single) bed, from her reading chair. As I perched for a moment in each spot, trying her life on for size, I thought about the years I’d spent struggling against the four walls of my apartment, and I wondered what my mother’s life would have been like had she lived and divorced my father. A room of one’s own, for each of us. A place where single women can live and thrive as themselves.

How modern societies reconcile aging and individualism will be very interesting to watch.

63% of the elderly claim to have experienced discrimination

Discrimination is typically associated with issues that arise involving race and ethnicity and gender. But a recent study suggests a majority of the elderly also say they have recently experienced discrimination:

A startling proportion of older people report that they’ve experienced discrimination: 63 percent, in a study recently published in Research on Aging. The most commonly cited cause? “Thirty percent report being mistreated because of their age,” said the lead author Ye Luo, a Clemson University sociologist. Perceived discrimination because of gender, race or ancestry, disabilities or appearance followed in smaller proportions…

Dr. Luo and her colleagues used national data from the federal Health and Retirement Study to measure what nearly 6,400 people — all older than age 53 when the study began in 2006 – thought about discriminatory behavior. Dr. Luo wasn’t surprised by the high proportion of people who said they had encountered it. That was consistent, she says, with previous studies.

As the researchers had expected, some people were more likely to report discrimination than others. Blacks, those who were separated or divorced or widowed, and those with fewer household assets had higher levels of perceived discrimination, as measured by questionnaires. It was less commonly perceived by whites, by the married or partnered, and by those with more assets…

Interestingly, the discrimination effect was stronger for everyday slights and suspicions (including whether people felt harassed or threatened, or whether they felt others were afraid of them) than for more dramatic events like being denied a job or promotion or being unfairly detained or questioned by police.

The study also suggests the experiences of discrimination are related to poorer health outcomes.

So if this is a common experience, what could society do differently to limit this? Public service announcements? Lessons in elementary school? How much of this is related to a youth-obsessed culture?

I wonder if these issues will only grow as Americans live longer. Also, what might happen if there is more generational conflict over debt, paying into social security, and the differences in wealth between the young and old?