Why large communities just for 55+ residents may not be a good thing

One researcher suggests the development of 55+ only communities limits opportunities for the residents and the communities:

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Del Webb of Sun City fame recognized that, rather than rocking away their “golden years” in the northern cold, older adults could be convinced to pull up roots, leave empty nests and move to communities of similar people and lives of leisure. A radio jingle promoting this new model of living sang out: “Don’t let retirement get you down! Be happy in Sun City, it’s a paradise town.”

But is a town without the sounds of children and a diversity of races and styles really a paradise?

A growing number of older adults say no, recognizing that living with neighbors of all ages and from all walks of life just makes sense. They realize that intergenerational connections are not just valuable for them but for their communities and country.

They recognize that ageism will not be defeated by a retreat to age-segregated corners, but only by engagement, collaboration and dialogue across age, race and class divides. They believe that there is more to graying than playing.

I wonder how housing and community organized by age fits with ongoing and persistent processes of residential sorting by race/ethnicity and social class in the United States. Looking at the Census QuickFacts for The Villages, Florida shows the community is almost 97% white and the poverty rate is 4.6%. Since wealth in the United States is related to race and ethnicity, how racially segregated are 55+ communities?

This commentary also hints at a broader issue in the United States: why is aging treated as it is? Why aren’t older adults seen as resources rather than liabilities? Why aren’t intergenerational relationships and communities celebrated more? These communities might be considered the physical embodiment of particular cultural values in the United States.

Intergenerational conflict across countries

LiveScience reports on a study of relationships between adult children and parents across six developed nations. According to the study:

American families were more than twice as likely as those living anywhere else to have so-called disharmonious relationships, or those defined by strong negative feelings, such as disagreement and tension, without any strong positive feelings, including feelings of closeness and amicability.

The authors suggested some of this conflict may come from welfare systems – if adult children feel they need to care for their parents and older parents need to ask for help, tensions may rise.

But the authors also note the differences in cultural values. This makes sense to me: American children, in particular, are taught from a relatively young age that they should be independent from their parents. While this is perhaps most obvious in the teenager and college years, it carries through into adulthood. American mobility probably plays a role (cell phone calls and Facebook relationships to cover the distance probably don’t carry the same weight) as families scatter over time.