The main reason why I think all bets are off with seniors and travel

I routinely hear arguments that the “greying of America” will mean that seniors will abandon their bad, auto-oriented, suburban lifestyle in favor of moving to walkable, transit-oriented urban communities. Or, at least, that we should provide them with the option of doing so by changing the supply of available housing to include more of the latter. I think that last argument–the ‘should’ argument–is actually the more compelling argument.

Anyway, the main reason I think all bets are off: the recession, the loss of home asset values, troubled pensions, and the fact that social security is in the political hotseat likely mean that, unlike the economically secure, comfortable cohorts of seniors we have seen in previous generations, this generation of seniors has had one economic threat after another roll in.

In terms of theorizing, that economic instability could mean anything, but it likely means staying in the workforce longer. I suspect that older workers are less job mobile than younger workers, so that means staying in their location, which means moving within region if they move at all–which doesn’t strike me as likely as moves can be expensive–while they hold onto jobs later. If they are not underwater with their homes, they may be unwilling to take a nominal hit on their major asset, their homes, and thus they hold onto the house rather than move.

I can tell you a different story, too, where the outcomes are different. Because they need to stay in the workforce longer but don’t have the same demand for space, they give up the house as they are no longer physically able to do the job and the house, and they trade that for a much cheaper condo closer to work and transit.

This moment in history, despite all its allusions to the Great Depression, isn’t like others. I just don’t think we have good priors.