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.

One thought on “The main reason why I think all bets are off with seniors and travel

  1. Is there any data to back up the assertion that the older people actually want to move smaller denser living arrangements near transit?

    My own parents retired in place. They paid off the home where my 3 brothers and I were raised. While they might not necessarily still need a 5 bedroom home in there 70’s they also have no desire to move. They were also able to come up with new uses for some of the space. My childhood bedroom was converted into an office. Another of my brothers childhood bedroom was converted into the craft/computer room. The other two boys childhood bedrooms became guest bedrooms. When I ask them why they stay they say they know and like their neighbors. If they moved somewhere else they would need to make new friends and my mom fears that as they have get older that might be difficult. For similar reasons my parents don’t want to attend a different church or find new places to shop. While the current furniture is dated, it matches the house that also hasn’t been updated significantly from the 1970’s. Lastly the large house provides plenty of room for the kids and grandchildren to sleep when we go to visit them.

    My parents are products of the depression. They feared debt and that fear of debt protected them from the worst aspects of the great recession. But they still have a lot of the fears of there generation. They associate transit and dense urban areas with crime no matter how much the data might suggest otherwise. They view suburbs as safe and cities as dangerous. In there mind one of there proudest achievements was being able to escape the city and move to the suburbs. This is despite the fact that the inner suburb we grew up in hasn’t entirely held its own.

    My hunch is that for many if not most retirees keeping there existing home with their existing neighbors and existing church is going to be there preferred option. Once you move to the suburb, I suspect you are likely to stay there.

    But the transit advocates still haven’t figured out a fix the reason that got my parents originally to move to the suburb and the factor that drove my wife and I to an edge city. The desire to find an affordable home with access to high performing public schools for our kids. For this purpose edge cities are the killer application.

    High density mixed income, mixed use neighborhoods might be great for supporting transit. But those neighborhoods tend to produce neighborhoods with lousy performing public schools for people with kids. In these neighborhoods the wealthy go to private schools and the public schools are filled with those who remain. For a given housing price level the public schools in these neighborhoods stink.

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