The Importance of Intergenerational Communities

Around the United States, people are feeling disconnected and lonely. The recently released Belonging Barometer found a startling 74 percent of Americans feel alienated from their local communities. An updated report from the U.S. Surgeon General describes the detrimental effects of loneliness and finds the highest rates of social isolation among older and younger populations.

Research demonstrates that connections between the young and old can combat the negative health effects of isolation. Yet, according to a Generations United/Eisner Foundation survey of adults nationwide, more than half of respondents — 53 percent — said that aside from family members, few of the people they spend time with are much older or much younger than they are.

"If you go out in the countryside someplace and build a thousand residential units and have them cheap enough, you'll probably fill the place up. But that's not going to make a community. I think having facilities readily available for people of all kinds, from little kids to the elderly — that's the most important thing of all."
— Robert E. Simon, founder of Reston, Virginia

Intergenerational Living Breaks Down Age Barriers

Age segregation hasn't always been the case, and there are many things we can do in our communities to dismantle the barriers in infrastructure that have created this divide.

Generations United has found that multigenerational and age-friendly communities create a vehicle to bring generations together:

  • Reduce age segregation and ageism
  • Decrease social isolation, depression, and loneliness
  • Improve community infrastructure and facilities.

For example, several years ago Swampscott, Massachusetts, was faced with a choice to replace a 100-year-old senior center or a 100-year-old high school. The solution they chose? Combine resources and build a better building for both: the Swampscott High School and Senior Center.

Most importantly, intergenerational living is what people are asking for. The national Generations United/Eisner Foundation survey found that 2 in 3 people would like to spend time with people outside their age group, and 3 out of 4 people wish there were more opportunities in their community for people of different ages to get to know one another.

Consumer demand is driving senior housing developers to rethink the old designs featuring 55+ gated communities and instead consider options to build on college campuses or include schools and child-care centers in their developments.

Planning for All Generations Promotes Well-being

Intergenerational communities — like those in San Diego County and Northeast Minnesota, as described in APA's Intergenerational Community Planning report — increase social, recreational, and volunteer opportunities that build a sense of community and improve health, mental health, and self-esteem while saving dollars.

The report, written by Irv Katz of Generations United and Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University, guides planning for the well-being of children, youth, and older adults as an integral part of planning for housing, community development, and infrastructure. In addition to the report, planners can access a number of other resources from Generations United to support the development of intergenerational communities: the Intergenerational Housing Learning Network, launched in 2022, and toolkits on Connecting Generations in Senior Housing, Sharing Our Space, and Creating An Age-Advantaged Community.

Generations United is excited to help planners and decision-makers enhance the important role municipalities and counties play in ensuring optimal outcomes for all people, especially our "bookend" generations — children, youth, and older adults.

Intergenerational Community Planning

Cover of PAS Report 603, Intergenerational Community Planning

PAS Report 603

By 2034 older adults will outnumber children in the U.S., a scenario unlike any prior period in American history. Learn how to identify the needs of the youngest and oldest members of a community and how to plan in a way that promotes the interaction of young and old to the mutual benefit of both groups — and the community as a whole in this PAS report.

Top image: E+ - SDI Productions

About the AUthor
Donna Butts is the executive director of Generations United.

June 7, 2023

By Donna Butts