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Preferred Living Arrangements

by Published On: Mar 29, 2011

Through many surveys conducted over many years, Americans over the age of 45 have expressed one consistent housing preference: they want to stay in their current residence for as long as possible. Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a November 2010 AARP survey expressed this preference to age in place. [1] Other studies shed an interesting light on what baby boomer households are likely to look like in the future. 

Some Universal Design Features  

Older boomers who age in place are likely to implement a number of universal design features to make their homes safer and more accessible. Most (80%) respondents to the November 2010 AARP survey reported that their current home already has a full bath and a bedroom on the main level, a core universal design feature. [1] Similarly, a 2010 survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) uncovered new consumer interest in single-floor living. [2]  

One-floor living may not be enough to keep older baby boomers independent, however. Fewer than half of the individuals surveyed by AARP said their home had other basic universal design features, including an entrance without steps, lever door handles or doorways that are wider than standard. [1] A 2009 National Association of Home Builders survey may explain these shortcomings: it found that few consumers age 55 and older think universal design is a priority. [3] 

Multigenerational Households   

If current trends hold, many baby boomers may find themselves aging alongside their younger and older family members. A record 49 million Americans – or 16.1% of the total U.S. population – lived in multigenerational households in 2008. One fifth (20%) of older adults lived with one or more children that year, an increase of three percent since 1990. More than half (58%) of these older people identified themselves as household heads, while 42% said a grown child was the head of their household. Hispanics (22%), African Americans (23%) and Asians (25%) are all significantly more likely than whites (13%) to live in a multi-generational family household. [4]

Despite the trend toward group living, about a quarter (27%) of Americans over 65 still live alone, down slightly from 28.8% in 1980. Solitary living doesn’t appear to agree with older people, who are more likely to report poor heath and feelings of sadness, depression or loneliness than are older adults who live with another person. [4]

Housing Affordability 

Housing affordability promises to be a major issue for future older people. One in eight (12%) people age 45 and older already report difficulty paying their rent or mortgage, according to a June 2010 AARP survey. 26% of survey participants thought they would have major problems finding affordable housing if they needed or chose to move. [5]  

Types of Movers 

Those older people who do move from their lifelong homes will do so for a variety of reasons. An 11-year, Florida-based study, reported in the Oct. 2010 issue of the Journal of Aging and Health, found that older movers fit into five distinct categories: 

  • “Serial amenity movers” are interested in exploring lifestyle interests. 
  • “Positioning movers” look for current amenities and the assurance that future services will be available when they need them.  
  • “Informal assistance movers” want to be near children in order to provide or receive support. 
  • “Formal assistance movers” want to receive services without burdening family members. 
  • “Dependency movers” seek nursing home care.  

Researchers suggest that paying attention to these categories could help providers of long-term services and supports understand the complex social relationships that impact the move process. This understanding could help providers develop flexible services that appeal to all types of movers. [6] 

Read More About It 

[1] Home and Community Preferences of the 45+ Population. 2010. AARP, November. 

[2] “As Housing Market Stabilizes, Development Shifts to Mixed-Use and Infill Projects.” 2010. AIArchitect, Dec. 3. 

[3] 55+ Housing: Builders, Buyers and Beyond. 2009. National Association of Home Builders and MetLife Mature Market Institute. 


[4] The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household. 2010. Social and Demographic Trends. Pew Research Center, March 18. 


[5] AARP Closer Look Survey. 2010. AARP, June.  


[6] Rethinking Assumptions about Post-Retirement Moves. 2010. Aging in Action. Mather LifeWays, Oct. 25. 


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