America’s Newest Seniors Are Changing the Face of Retirement
After a decade of arrested development, Millennials are finally the biggest generational cohort in the home-buying market. But, Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are still comfortably ahead in homeownership rates. With the youngest Boomers now aged 55, this is already the largest generation of seniors in history. Not only are Boomers retiring in droves, but retirement is also on the horizon for the oldest of Generation X.
A year ago, we investigated attitudes on housing among Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers. Curious about the attitudes of Americans aged 45 and older on housing, retirement and finances, PropertyShark conducted a generational survey on their preferences.
- More than half of those 45 and older want to remain in their current homes for their senior years.
- 3 out of 5 have less than $100,000 saved for retirement; only 4% have more than $1 million set aside.
- Nearly one-third have struggled to keep up with housing costs in the past year.
- Close to 1 in 3 older adults don’t plan on ever fully retiring.
- Half of the cohort lacked knowledge of government programs related to senior housing.
- 1 in 4 older adults looking to retire outside their home state want to move to Florida.
Much has been written about the massive changes in the real estate industry since Millennials have entered the housing market. Now, that conversation is starting to shift toward Gen Z, a generation whose attitudes on housing are a unique blend of Millennial and Silent Generation habits. While the changes and challenges that arise in the industry with the advent of each new generation are to be expected, another real estate changeover is silently brewing among Baby Boomers – the largest generation of older adults the United States has ever seen.
A new age of demographics – seniors to outnumber children
The generation that spurred the boom of American suburbs and brought on the advent of McMansions is also the one that currently controls around 70% of the nation’s disposable income. Moreover, approximately 60% of those older than 65 are living mortgage-free, and Boomers are expected to pass on around $48 trillion in assets in the next 25 years. But, it’s not all rose-colored in Boomerland; a Vanguard report found that 45% of them have no retirement savings at all.
Indeed, 58% of PropertyShark’s survey’s respondents reported having less than $100,000 saved, 24% reported assets worth between $100,000 and $400,000, and only 4% reported savings above the $1 million mark. Considering the crushing pressures Social Security and Medicare are already facing, the financial health of the largest generation of seniors ever is a concerning aspect for the financial health of the country itself.
U.S. Census data shows that, by 2030 one in five Americans will be 65 or older; by 2035, older adults will outnumber children in yet another historic first. But the massive demographic changes brought on by lower birthrates paired with increased longevity will make their mark even earlier: by 2020, for every retirement-age adult, there will be 3.5 working-age adults. Fast forward 40 years and, by 2060, that ratio will be 1:2.5.
Financially fit? Fewer than 1 in 5 older adults have more than $400,000 saved
As previously mentioned, 58% of respondents reported savings below $100,000 and 24% reported assets worth between $100,000 and $400,000. An additional 9% of respondents reported savings of more than $400,000 and less than $700,000, while 5% valued their nest egg between $700,000 and $1 million. Only 4% have saved more than $1 million.
Of those who have saved for retirement, 28% of adults 45 and older have invested in 401(k)s, 15% in real estate, 9% in IRAs and 3% in annuities exclusively. The most common option, though, is a combination of these – a full 45% of respondents have diversified investments.
Additionally, the more money someone has saved, the more likely it is to be in a combined form of investments. Only 26% of those with less than $100,000 in savings have multiple types of savings, compared to 96% of those with more than $1 million put away. For those with less than $100,000 saved, 401(k)s are the most popular option; 35% chose this for their nest egg, followed by 26% with combined savings, 24% with real estate, 10% in IRAs and 5% with annuities.
In fact, of those who named real estate as their only nest egg, a whopping 91% have less than $100,000 saved. Of those who chose 401(k)s to save for retirement, 74% have less than $100,000 in savings, while an additional 20% have no more than $400,000.
Explore the slideshow below for a detailed look at retirement investment strategies among America’s older adults.
Nearly 1 in 3 adults over 45 have struggled to keep up with housing costs in the past year
It’s not just lower-than-expected savings levels that spell potential danger for the retirement years of many older adults; it’s also their current housing expenditures. A full 30% of respondents said they had struggled with housing costs in the past 12 months. As expected, those with lower incomes reported higher rates of housing cost burdens, but the issue was present across all income levels, as well as retirement timelines.
Among those earning $20,000 to $40,000 a year, a whopping 42% reported struggling with housing costs; 27% of those earning between $40,000 and $60,000 said they were in the same situation. Earners in the $60,000 to $80,000, and $80,000 to $100,000 income brackets, reported similar rates of cost burden: 22% and 20%, respectively. Even in the highest income bracket – older adults earning more than $100,000 a year – 6% said they, too, found it difficult to keep up with housing costs in the past year.
As far as their retirement timelines, the most financially stable category seems to be those looking to retire within 5 years; just 23% of this group reported housing cost burdens. Respondents looking to retire in 5 to 10 years, as well as those planning to retire in more than 10 years, noted similar rates, at 30% and 31%, respectively. Those who have already retired experience housing cost burdens at a rate of 28%, as compared to a worrisome 44% of those respondents who don’t plan on ever fully retiring.
This suggests that, beyond shifting attitudes regarding retirement – with many older adults choosing to stay employed for reasons other than financial concerns – there is also a strong need for continued employment to keep up with the daily cost of life.
Additionally, despite 30% of older adults having struggled to keep up with housing costs in the past year alone, information on government programs involved in senior housing is scarce. Only 3% of older adults are very familiar with these programs, as compared to a whopping 49% who are not at all familiar with them. Just 14% consider themselves somewhat familiar, while a third said they know very little. This means that the overwhelming majority of adults who have already retired or are nearing retirement age are not prepared to make use of government programs.
Almost 1 in 5 older adults have explored how to monetize extra space in their homes
Despite the fact that close to 1 in 3 adults over 45 are struggling with housing costs, few are open to cutting costs by sharing their homes; 82% are not interested in making use of extra space in their home for additional income. Granted, this does include respondents who may not have extra space to rent out, for example.
Only 8% of all survey participants who reported housing cost burdens are looking into ways to make better use of the extra space in their homes. Somewhat surprisingly, 10% of respondents who reported no housing cost burden at all have still looked into ways of boosting their income in this way. The highest rates of openness toward renting out space in their homes are among younger Boomers and older Gen Xers; 25% of adults planning to retire in more than 5 years and 16% of those planning to retire in more than 10 years have explored monetizing extra home space.
Shifting attitudes toward short-term renting are even more prevalent. Younger Boomers and older Gen Xers are far more likely to list their homes on Airbnb-type platforms. While fewer than 1 in 3 older adults would consider this, the percentages shift dramatically more positive on the younger side of older adults. Only 4% of seniors already in retirement would consider this, compared to 12% of those for whom retirement is more than 10 years away.
Only 1 in 3 would consider sharing their home like the Golden Girls
Although 30% of adults over the age of 45 reported struggling with housing costs in the past year, sharing costs with a housemate or a paying guest who is not a family member does not appeal to most of them. The majority of respondents (59%) wouldn’t consider hosting someone younger, while 65% said they wouldn’t host someone close to their age, even if they paid rent.
This is in spite of the overwhelming success of pilot programs such as Boston’s Nesterly or the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens’ Home Sharing Program. The latter has been pairing senior citizens with guests through a proprietary database, interviews and match meetings – not unlike traditional matchmaking services. Nesterly follows a similar process, albeit with many more aspects handled through the online platform, including the terms of the homeshare and rent payments.
Although neither living with someone close to their age – also known as the Golden Girls model – nor intergenerational living appeals to the majority of America’s older adults, there is a somewhat higher degree of openness toward younger houseguests; 41% of adult aged 45 and over would consider this option, as opposed to the 35% who would consider the Golden Girls model.
However, there are strict expectations for either of these models. In the Golden Girls model, 2% of older adults would be open to it if the guest helped out around the house; 7% if the housemate was vetted; and 7% if they paid rent. One-fifth would only agree if all of these conditions were met. Similarly, in intergenerational living with someone significantly younger who was not a family member, 3% would say yes if the housemate helped with chores; 6% would require they be vetted; 9% would agree in exchange for rent; and 23% would consider it if all these conditions were met.
Here, too, generational shifts can be observed. While 29% of retired seniors would be open to sharing their home with someone close to their own age, that ratio ticks up to 39% of younger Boomers and 36% of older Gen Xers – those retiring in more than 5 years and more than 10 years, respectively.
One-third of seniors who have already retired are open to sharing their homes with someone significantly younger. Younger Boomers are more open to intergenerational living, with 45% of those retiring in more than five years open to it if certain conditions are met; 43% of those retiring in more than 10 years are willing to share their home with someone outside of their family.
More than 1 in 5 older adults would like to retire to less than 1,000 square feet
Not too long ago, intergenerational living within the family was the norm. But, today’s older adults have very different views. Moving in with family or having family move in with them is the plan for only 4% of older adults today, with 2% for each of these options. Age-restricted living arrangements, such as senior living communities, appeal to 10% of older adults, while downsizing appeals to 30% of them. The golden standard, however, seems to be aging in place – 56% of all respondents want to remain in the home they currently reside in.
Generational shifts can be easily tracked in housing preferences, as well. 62% of those not planning to retire and 61% of those already retired, plan on staying in their current homes. But, that preference loses ground – especially to downsizing – the further older adults are from retirement. Staying in their current homes is the top choice for 54% of survey participants who are more than 5 years from retirement.
Additionally, 33% of respondents who are more than 5 years away from retirement and 34% of those who are more than 10 years from retirement plan on downsizing; this is compared to 22% of retired seniors and 27% of those who don’t plan to retire.
Another notable spike is the expectation of family moving in with them; more than half of survey participants who plan for this expect to retire in 10+ years. This could suggest that older Gen Xers and younger Boomers may expect their adult children to move in with them, as many experienced in years following the financial crisis.
As far as the size of the ideal home for retirement, 44% of older adults would prefer a home between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet, even though only 30% of them currently live in homes of this size. However, only 23% of them would want to retire to a home between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet, while 28% of them currently live in such a home.
The truly significant shifts appear outside of these home sizes, though. While 12% currently live in homes larger than 2,500 square feet, only one-third of them want to retire to so much space. Similarly, while 17% currently occupy between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet, only 7% want this amount of square footage after retirement. And, although only 13% live in less than 1,000 square feet, more than 20% of older adults want to retire to homes of this size.
Explore the slideshow below for a detailed look at what the ideal retirement home size is for America’s older adults.
Only 1 in 10 older adults have made universal design changes to their homes
While many older adults would prefer to remain in their current homes, most don’t consider their neighborhood – or even city – to be very senior-friendly. Only 19% of respondents think their neighborhood is very senior-friendly, while 16% think it’s not at all welcoming. More than half (54%) think their neighborhood is somewhat senior-friendly, and 60% think the same of their city. Close to 1 in 10 thinks their city is not at all senior-friendly; about the same number of people don’t know if it is or is not.
Wishing to remain in their current homes – also known as aging in place – comes with the need to implement home modifications compliant with universal design practices, such as zero-step entrances, wide doorways and hallways, and single-story living. According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing, only 3.5% of the nation’s housing stock features all three of these design elements.
In our survey, 15% of respondents have not yet made such modifications, but are planning to do so soon; only 11% have implemented similar home modifications, such as grab handles, wheelchair accessibility or ground-floor bedrooms. Nearly three quarters (74%) of older adults are taking a wait-and-see approach on increasing the accessibility of their homes.
Suburbia reigns supreme, but 1 in 3 older adults long for the country life
As far as the ideal environment for retirement, suburbia is the top option for 45% of older adults, followed closely by rural living with 30%. City living is a distant third with 15%, and senior living communities remain stable at 10% of the votes. Here, too, generational differences are evident.
While rural living appeals to more than one-third (36%) of adults planning to retire in 10+ years, only a quarter of seniors already in retirement would choose or have chosen country living. Conversely, city living holds more appeal to retired seniors and older adults who don’t plan to retire – 18% and 23%, respectively – while only 12% of young Boomers and older Gen Xers would like to retire to an urban environment.
Suburban living, while a top choice for both retired seniors and those not planning to retire, is least popular with these two demographics. Only 38% want to live in suburbia, while half of respondents retiring within the next 10 years want to live in a suburban setting.
Unsurprisingly, senior living communities are most popular among seniors who have already retired – about 1 in 5 consider this their top choice, while only 11% of respondents who don’t plan to retire want to live here. However, senior living communities hold little appeal for young Boomers and older Gen Xers: only 6% of those retiring in more than 10 years would want to retire to an age-restricted community.
Whether it’s in a rural, urban or suburban setting, when it comes to choosing the community where they’ll spend their retirement years, older adults prioritize cost above everything else – regardless of age or retirement plan. Cost is, by far, the most significant factor, followed by proximity to friends and family, area amenities, the quality and proximity of health services, and the climate.
For those who stay in their own homes after retirement, their most significant worry is maintenance and repairs. Growing property taxes are a distant second, followed closely by the ability to keep up with day-to-day obligations; safety, area amenities and utility bills round out the list.
Florida unbeatable: 1 in 4 older adults who plan to move out of state want to retire there
Although 56% of older adults would prefer to remain in their current homes after retirement, only 41% of all respondents don’t plan to move; 36% plan to move from their current homes, while 23% have not yet decided. Moving out-of-state is the most popular option (17%) for those who are planning to move or are undecided.
As expected, Florida is the most popular destination. A whopping 24% of older adults looking to move to another state are attracted to the Sunshine State, proving that – at least for the foreseeable future – Florida will remain a haven for seniors. Surprisingly, younger Boomers and older Gen Xers also show an affinity for Florida: 15% of older adults looking to move out-of-state are those who plan to retire in more than five years to the Sunshine State.
The South and the Southwest are the most popular locations to retire to. While Florida remains the #1 option for 25% of older adults, Arizona is an increasingly popular destination, as well: 10% of those looking to relocate to another state would move there, followed by South Carolina and Tennessee, with 8% each. California, despite being notoriously unaffordable, especially for older households, is also among the most popular destinations with 6%. Texas rounds out the list, named as the state of their choice by 5% of those looking to cross state lines for retirement.
An additional 10% want to move to other destinations in the South, and 7% are eyeing the Northeastern U.S. The West, despite growing unaffordability issues in many states, is the ideal retirement destination for nearly 20% of older adults looking to retire outside their state. The Midwest rounds out the list, with a mere 4% looking to retire here.
While moving out-of-state is the more popular option, a full 2% of older adults are looking to move abroad. South America, Central America and the Caribbean are the top destinations for those moving abroad, followed by Canada and Mexico. Europe and Asia round out the list.
The top reason for retiring abroad is the climate – nearly one-third cited this reason. A lower cost of living and the excitement of a new adventure were each noted by 25% of respondents. Family living abroad is also a factor, as are better health and social services.
Generational shifts are also noticed here. Most of the older adults looking to retire abroad are more than 5 and more than 10 years away from retirement, which showcases their changing attitudes on retirement. For these older adults, retirement is more likely to be an exciting, new chapter in life, full of new challenges and adventures.
Jet-setting seniors: nearly 1 in 4 older adults want to prioritize traveling in retirement
This new generation of seniors is taking a thoroughly new approach to retirement. The single-most popular choice after retirement is travel: 23% of adults over 45 want to travel after retiring, with those yet to retire most keen on seeing the world. While only 7% of older adults who don’t plan to retire are looking to travel in their older years, 29% of respondents retiring in 5 to 10 years plan on hitting the road.
Plenty of older adults are also looking to continue working – 5% of all survey participants plan to continue in their current field/job in a limited manner, while an additional 16% plan to find part-time employment in a new field. A noticeable minority are also looking at their retirement years as the perfect opportunity to build their own businesses (8%) or give back to the community – 9% want to volunteer or volunteer more than they do now.
All in all, this means that close to 1 in 3 Americans older than 45 will stay in the workforce as they age, at least part-time or seasonally. Entrepreneurship is most popular with those who don’t plan on fully retiring – 16% plan to start their own business, compared to only 6% of seniors who have already retired. Those stats are reversed when it comes to pursuing sports and hobbies – while 16% of retirees are dedicating their time to pursue leisure activities, only 5% of adults who won’t be retiring have made that a priority.
Another generational shift is the dedication of retirement years to helping out family members, such as assisting adult children with childcare; 16% of retirees and those who will retire within five years plan to pitch in with family, while only about 1 in 10 older adults who will retire in more than five years plan on making this a priority in retirement.
Of course, some older adults have yet to decide what they will spend their retirement years on: 15% of respondents are undecided in regards to their retirement plans, with the highest rates among those who don’t plan on retiring – 27% of this demographic have yet to set anything in stone.
For this study, we surveyed 1,068 American adults aged 45 and older via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Respondents were asked individual questions about savings and finances, retirement plans, living arrangements, their housing preferences, community factors, as well as some demographic data, such as their marital status and age. Our survey sample size has a confidence level of 95% and a 3% margin of error.
Our survey sample size is comprised of respondents who are already retired (22%), respondents who will retire within 5 years (16%), respondents who will retire in 5 to 10 years (22%), respondents who will retire in more than 10 years (33%) and respondents who don’t plan to ever retire (8%).
We defined Gen Z as those born between 1995 and 2010, Millennials as those born between 1981 and 1994, Gen X as those born between 1965 and 1980, and Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964. Additionally, we defined older Gen Xers as those born between 1965 and 1974, younger Boomers as those born between 1956 and 1964, and older Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1955.