They Aren't Retiring -- And They Aren't Looking for Retirement Living Options

While we knew that Boomer women aren't contemplating anything traditionally identified as "retirement," we were surprised to learn something important about their thoughts about single homeownership: They aren't going anywhere.

In our recent survey, only a third of the Boomer women we questioned said they plan to move to a new home in the next 10 years. Another third said that they plan to remain right where they are, and a final third remains unsure.

And it's clear that they aren't considering moves for the reasons their parents did at the same age, or for the reasons many marketers seem to think.

Of those who plan a move in the next decade, 30% want to try out a new city; another 30% want a house and yard that are easier to maintain; and 17% want to be closer to their family.

Only 8% said they were contemplating a move for health-related reasons, a strong indication of how many want to move to places selling health assistance or benefits. And only 1% said they were preparing to move in with other family members -- a sharp reminder that even the oldest Boomer is hardly infirm.

What should the housing industry be selling Boomer women, who (married or not) will be driving any decisions about a move?

First, they should sell convenience and urban settings. Thirty-five percent said that they would be interested in a condo or patio home, and 25% expressed an interest in more urban settings. But the housing industry should also start exploring shared living options.

Among Boomers, there's a lot more interest in communal living (14%) than transitional or assisted living (8%), and interest in the former category is growing fast.

One respondent described what she loves about communal living: "We helped to create a co-housing community . . . . We are 34 townhomes with both shared and private gardens, chickens and solar panels. I love that we have our own beautiful home that is very energy efficient and has great daylight, but are also part of a community of people that I really know. My neighbors include 92-year-old Meg across the walkway and 3-year-old August down the way."

As for amenities, the vibrant Boomer woman wants the same things that younger adults seek: parks and green space (24%); on-site parking and pet-friendliness (19%), and walking distance to shopping and cultural activities (18%). Fitness centers and swimming pools rank lower for this generation, who remain active and are seeking fulfillment from the same places (such a gyms) and as younger adults.

We asked respondents what their "ideal living situation" looked like, and the common threads in their responses offer home-builders, developers, urban planners, and the real estate industry a lot to chew on:

  • A smaller house. Generally, the Boomer woman's ideal is either a cottage or ranch house.
  • A sunroom or protected outdoor seating space (depending on the climate).
  • Privacy. Whether it means having some protected space outdoors that neighbors can't see or living on a five-acre lot, the Boomer woman is not generally ready to live on top of someone else.
  • Trees and space to garden. Whether they seek "a fenced yard with plenty of space for flowers and other plants, blueberry, raspberry and strawberries and apple trees" or "just a bit of dirt," the Boomer woman wants to grow things in her own garden.
  • Space for pets. They want lots of space for their pets (and it needs to be fenced separately from the garden).

For the third of Boomer women (or more) who aren't moving, the renovation and landscaping industries should be thinking about how to offer her this ideal now. For those who are contemplating a move, the housing industry may be investing in (or selling her) the wrong features.

Either way, these results remind us once again that real Boomers (whose average age is only 53) still live a long way from where the housing industry (still confusing them with their "senior" parents) thinks they are.

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7 comments about "They Aren't Retiring -- And They Aren't Looking for Retirement Living Options ".
  1. Deborah Armstrong from Group PRM - Options Alliance , June 7, 2010 at 12:56 p.m.

    How many times must marketers hear "we are NOT our parents" before they hear? Or, better said, before they listen?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 7, 2010 at 1:30 p.m.

    There is a TV spot showing a white haired woman who says she is 62 and couldn't wait to move into a retirement home setting located way out in suburbiaville where a car is an absolute necessity to go "off campus". Obviously, it discourages visitors, including family, from easy access. Go figure.

  3. Lori Bitter from The Business of Aging , June 7, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.

    Stephen,
    Very interesting piece of research and exactly what we are hearing from Boomers about their future housing expectations. I do wonder if there is some denial about what their future healthcare needs will cost, and misunderstanding of how a structured housing environment can deliver both what they want in terms of bricks and mortar and need. I think this should be a call to action for developers of all types of age targeted communities; they have to begin shifting the existing products to suit evolving needs.

  4. Suson Bonet from Freelance Consulting , June 7, 2010 at 3:22 p.m.

    Great article Stephen...at last someone, who is not a Boomer, gets it!

    When thinking about "engaging Boomers" it's good to look back at their history, the "firsts" they introduced, the "causes" they fought and continue to fight for, their "anti-establishment" culture, that many times still lives underneath their "aging exterior" and what really matters to them now. It's good to remember that this is the generation of "Led Zeppelin" and not the generation of the "Lawrence Welk Show".

    To lump them in with the Boomer's parents and grandparents and then assume that their hopes and dreams reflect the same culture, just misses the mark.
    Boomers were life-changers. Boomers broke the rules. Boomers looked past the ways of doing things in the past and "did their own thing". Boomers broke down borders of racism, sexism, nationalism, ideas of what's right or wrong and exploded their own parents and grandparents old-fashioned ideas of the "right haircut", the "right outfit", the "right lifestyle" and the "right" way to parent. They worked hard to break outmoded ways of seeing the world and now they bask in the knowledge that they DID make a difference.

    To Boomers, it's now time to enjoy more freedom, not less. They look forward to having more free time to work for the social causes and new legislation that could change even more of the old ways of doing things. Perhaps even change careers or start their own business. So staying fit, learning new skills, perfecting their own unique talents, finding new and interesting places "to be", fulfilling the items on their "Bucket List" and meeting new people top their list of wants. Not which "comfortable shoes" to buy, which medications to take or which "ingrown senior community" to retire to.

    Not Boomers! They are the "Rock N Roll" generation. The generation of "why not" and not the generation of "I'll do it this way, because that's what my parents did" when they "got old".

    If marketers and entrepreneurs and major brands can look at who Boomers really are and make sure that their marketing efforts resonate with this group, they will succeed. But if they market to Boomers the way seniors have been marketed to in the past, they will fall short of the mark.

    Find out "who" Boomers are, "what" they think about, "what" they enjoy and the "dreams" they still believe in first, and then market to the "real Boomers" and not the previous generations. If you take the time to know them, it will make all the difference in the outcome of your marketing efforts.

    Here's a little list of "what's hot" and "what's not" with Boomers.

    What's HOT:

    *Condos with garden space and dog friendly rules.
    *Cities with a vibrant and diverse arts community, outdoor recreational venues and gourmet restaurants and cafes.
    *Small houses with unique styling, liberal use of attractive, natural materials, plenty of growing space, walking distance to downtowns and energy efficiency.
    *Clothing that is comfortable, but allows them to feel that they are still able to express their own sense of personal style.
    *Shoes that are comfortable, but stylish, with great details and high quality materials.
    *Cars that say "freedom" and "style" and come in a wide choice of colors.
    *Beauty products that don't hide aging or prevent it, but allow them to show that beauty is ageless.
    *Hair products that allow gray/white hair to shine and sparkle.
    *Vitamins in the right combinations to meet the unique requirements that senior Boomers need and want. Beautiful skin and hair, strong bones, strong muscles and an active mind.
    *Real food with great taste and loaded with nutrition.
    *Rock N Roll, Alternative, World and NEW Music.
    *Retro product design in cars and home wares, as long as it references their time and not their grandparents.
    *Permanent press and wrinkle free shirts and dresses.
    *Natural fiber clothing and bed linens.

    What's NOT:

    *Granny Shoes and white canvas Tennis Shoes.
    *Frumpy, shapeless clothing in boring fabrics that lack texture and beautiful, subtle color combinations.
    *Big, bulky cars that guzzle gas and lack pick up and go.
    *Senior Communities period. And particularly Senior Communities that are isolated.
    *Targeted advertising campaigns that focus on the negative aspects of growing older and not the opportunities.
    *Packaged, tasteless convenience foods.
    *Depression medication commercials that are so awful, that if you weren't depressed before the commercial, you will be after.
    *Anything that looks like something their own grandmother or grandfather would have purchased.
    *Marketing that targets "dead generations" instead of the seniors that are "alive now". The wrong musical backgrounds, fonts and colors and imaging. Boomers are not Victorians or Flappers.

    --Suson Bonet

  5. Suson Bonet from Freelance Consulting , June 7, 2010 at 3:41 p.m.

    You brought up an interesting point Lori (Lori Bitter):

    "I do wonder if there is some denial about what their future healthcare needs will cost, and misunderstanding of how a structured housing environment can deliver both what they want in terms of bricks and mortar and need."

    Denial? Absolutely. It's part of the Boomer Persona. Just ask them some questions about their concerns about health problems as they age and prepare to die, and you'll hear some shocking comebacks. "Me...I hope I choke on my espresso before then!" "I plan on dying on my Harley!" "I'll just party to death!" "I'll move to the woods and let a grizzly eat me!" Etc., etc.

    So, even though they are "in denial", marketers shouldn't act like "senior life couches" and waste money trying to market them into acceptance. Better to see things their way and give them information about the products, services and opportunities that can make their current life better, and more importantly, "more fun".

    The last place most Boomers want to end up in is a convalescent hospital or day care home or senior community. And if they continue to live the way they do, they may be able to beat the odds and reduce the percentage of Boomers who end up dying in senior communities or old age homes. Boomers prefer to "go out" having fun. Drown in a Venetian Canal, choke on a crepe in France, fall from a mountainside in Switzerland, be eaten by a Tiger in India...you get the picture.

  6. Suson Bonet from Freelance Consulting , June 7, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.

    I meant "Senior Life Coaches" not "Couches". Oh Lawd...bring on the Memory Meds!

  7. Ute Hagen from YSC Your Success Counts GmbH , June 9, 2010 at 4:38 p.m.

    This article really matches my experiences and what I see and hear of my generation.
    Deborah: I agree that it is very frustrating that marketers don't hear the message. But maybe we, the Boomers, are to blame for it as well because we don't personally speak up. We let others, like Stephen, talk for us. However, in my experience Marketers don't listen to "experts", they do listen to the real consumer. We need to speak up more directly.