The older population in the U.S. is rapidly growing and becoming more diverse. As of 2018, 49.2 million people aged 65 and older comprised 15.2 percent of the U.S. population. However, many cities are not fully prepared for these demographic changes.
Increasingly, older adults are relocating to meet their changing needs and preferences. Residential mobility of people aged 55 and older has increased for the last decade despite the reduced mobility rates of younger ages. In the article "Recent Relocation Patterns Among Older Adults in the United States" (Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 88, No. 1), authors Shengxiao (Alex) Li, Wanyang Hu, and Fuyu Guo try to understand the relocation patterns of people aged 60 and older in the United States: who relocate, why, and where they move.
Figure 1. Relocation patterns of people aged 25 and over in the United States, 2010–2019. Note: Relocation rate is defined as the number of people who moved in the past year over the total population in each year. Source: American Community Survey 1-year 2010 and 2019 (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.).
Who is moving and why?
Based on the 2017 American Housing Survey, they found movers tended to be renters, those with lower incomes, those with higher housing cost burdens, and those who live alone. The three most common reasons for moving were living closer to family members (41 percent), better neighborhoods (29 percent), and reducing housing costs (25 percent).
However, baby boomers younger than 70 had more heterogeneous reasons for moving than older adults. For instance, more than 60 percent of those younger than 70 years moved for a better neighborhood or home. Even though housing cost burden is a common reason for all age groups (25 percent), movers aged 65 to 69, aging baby boomers approaching retirement or recently retired reported this reason most frequently at 27 percent.
Figure 3. Reasons for moving among different age groups in AHS 2017 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018)
Where are they going?
Depending on the destination of relocating older adults, the authors classified movers into three types: aging adapters (56.9 percent), suburb lovers (37.5 percent), and long-distance movers (5.6 percent). Aging adapters tend to move to age-restricted neighborhoods within 50 miles of their previous homes. They generally live in places with good public transportation and experience perceived improvement in their new destination neighborhood's quality.
Suburb lovers, roughly 38 percent of all movers, prefer a suburban community setting as it is conducive to driving and populated with people of all ages but mostly younger than 55. They tend to consider these neighborhoods as better than their previous residences.
Lastly, long-distance movers are people who relocated more than 50 miles, representing about 6 percent of movers. Most of them moved to non-age restricted communities, and only three in 10 reported that their new neighborhoods had desirable public transportation services. Around 50 percent said their destination neighborhood was worse than their previous one.
Among three groups, aging adapters seem to be the most socially disadvantaged. They have the lowest household income at around $30,000 and the highest housing cost burden at nearly 34 percent. Nearly half (43.8 percent) of aging adapters live alone, and most of them rent housing, supposedly due to the rental-based nature of the most age-restricted communities.
As all baby boomers will be aged 65 or older within a decade, the authors propose that practitioners should take steps to prepare cities where people can age in place. The efforts can include increasing housing affordability for older adults, establishing age-inclusive communities through active engagement and programming, and expanding transportation alternatives. The authors suggest a range of housing options, from expanding rental assistance programs to support low-income older adult renters to creating more accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
Around 57 percent of aging adapters' destination neighborhoods have good public transit, indicating that they might move to seek alternative transportation resources. However, less than half of movers whose destination is in the South have access to good public transportation.
In the short term, ride-hailing can improve accessibility for older adults, especially those living in farther suburbs without cars, and women with safety concerns in riding transit. However, in the long term, establishing multimodal systems should be a goal that must go hand in hand with efforts to increase built environment density.
The article supports the argument that the efforts to prepare cities for older adults can make cities that work better for everyone. In an age-inclusive city where affordable housing options are more diverse, people can move around without cars, and a variety of social programs exist, everyone will have a better quality of life.
On top of that, critically considering older adults in housing policy poses essential questions such as how the current policies around affordable housing are predicated on people with regular incomes, not fully considering someone without a stable income. In this sense, I believe this article gives insights to planners about what nuanced age-friendly housing policies and community development should consider.
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About the author
Jiwon Park is a master of prban planning candidate at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.