The 'Golden Girls' Were Onto Something
You’re a widow or widower, age 67, and own a 3,000-square-foot, 4-bed/3-bath house. Do you:
a) stay put and age in place alone;
b) sell and move into a smaller house or apartment;
c) move into a retirement community;
d) move in with an adult child (hi, kids!); or
e) none of the above?
For an increasing number of Boomers, “e” is becoming a workable answer, thanks to the phenomenon of home sharing. “Golden Girls” references aside, home sharing is becoming more of a viable option for those entering retirement or leaving an empty nest, and is often more appealing to widowed or single female Boomers. According to an AARP analysis, there were approximately 480,000 female Boomers cohabiting with at least one non-related female roommate back in 2010 alone.
Recent statistics show that only 34% of over-65s say they live alone, and that figure jumps to 45% of women (who live an average of five years longer than men). Granted, it’s not a completely new phenomenon. Back in the pre-Social Security days, large numbers of older persons (particularly widows) combined households for companionship and to share expenses.
Today, a home-sharing arrangement allows participants to continue a certain kind of lifestyle that they may not be able to afford when they are out of the workforce, single or widowed. Benefits include low payments (ranging from under $500 to around $1,000 per month), companionship and intellectual connection, security and in some cases, shared home- and community-based services for healthcare and home maintenance.
Although rooming with close friends is probably the best set-up, many successful cooperative households were originally strangers who became friends. AARP recently spotlighted a co-housing arrangement involving three female Boomers. In this case, the women took out a mortgage together, share all the household expenses and have a strict set of house rules. The housemates also deposit the same amount into a joint checking account to pay for utilities, property taxes and repairs, and each contributes a $100 gift card to be used for groceries.
For marketers, this represents something of a new segment – members of which are neither single nor have a spouse.
Economically, the movement represents a major opportunity for those offering aging-in-place products and services. Let’s not forget homecare agencies and even personal technology companies looking to keep these roomies safe, comfortable and connected. There’s great opportunity for real estate agents to offer and market communal living options, as well as for builders and developers to consider home modifications and new housing that will accommodate multiple aging occupants.
The impact of Web and mobile marketing among this segment will also grow, enabling marketers to reach a population that already has a high level of technological acuity, enjoys shopping online, and reports being influenced by mobile content. One way to connect would be to advertise on health sites, or on the growing number of online sources that connect and screen potential housemates.
Marketers should understand that as the population ages, not everyone will have the support of an extended family or the financial means to live on their own or to move into a retirement community, making the house-sharing model an attractive target. Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia and Rose would be pleased.