The pandemic has changed the way people live and their feelings about home and community. Many older adults have spent more time at home, feel less connected to their neighbors and would consider living arrangements that include multigenerational homes and accessory dwelling units.
What COVID-19 hasn't affected is older adults' desire to stay in their homes as they age, according to a new AARP "Home and Community Preferences Survey." Data shows that 77 percent of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes for the long term — a number that has been consistent for more than a decade.
The survey of 2,826 adults 18 and older was taken this past June and July and was AARP’s first on this topic since 2018. It reveals new information about how people want to live as they age, what’s important to them and the popularity of options for housing. The survey also queried caregivers about their home and community needs for themselves and their loved ones.
“It’s really important that we understand what people’s housing preferences are, what they want, what they need and how well their options are meeting their needs,” says Rodney Harrell, vice president of family, home and community at AARP. “It’s foundational to our work to improve housing options and communities.”
Influence of COVID-19
Homes became the center of life during the pandemic.
The survey found that 64 percent of adults stayed at home and almost half worked from there during that time. About half went out less during the pandemic — 56 percent said they stocked up on supplies, and 48 percent said they shopped online.
COVID-19 affected other aspects of home life and well-being too.
- 76 percent of adults 50-plus said it is very important for them to have high-speed internet, compared with 70 percent for adults under 50.
- 58 percent of adults 50-plus reported being extremely or very concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on themselves and their families, compared with 42 percent of adults under 50.
- 24 percent of respondents 50-plus reported feeling less connected to their community since COVID-19, but those 18 to 24 were even more likely to feel isolated and lonely, at 42 percent.
Many older adults are homeowners and want to stay in their residences and communities as they age; indeed, only 29 percent said they plan to relocate to another community. Respondents said they value communities that provide access to clean water, healthy foods, quality health care and safe outdoor spaces.
The number of households headed by people age 65 and older is expected to grow from 34 million to 48 million in the next two decades, according to studies from the Urban Institute, so having housing choices is critical, says Jun Zhu, a visiting assistant professor in the finance department at Indiana University-Bloomington and a nonresident fellow with the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
And while the number of older households will “explode,” Zhu says, homeownership in that demographic is predicted to decrease. The AARP survey found that nearly 80 percent of respondents over 50 own their home and 51 percent have no mortgage. The Urban Institute, however, predicts that the number of renters 65 and older will grow from 7.4 million in 2020 to 12.9 million by 2040, with a particularly large increase among Black older adults.
Perspectives on aging in place
While some adults surveyed have a home with features to allow them to remain there as they get older, like a bathroom on the main level (80 percent) or a room on the first floor that could be used as a bedroom (82 percent), many respondents said they would need to make changes to stay at home comfortably and safely.
A third of all poll participants said they would need to modify their current residence so that they or a loved one could continue to live there if they had physical limitations.
- 79 percent said they would need to modify bathrooms with grab bars or no-step showers.
- 71 percent said their home has inside and outside accessibility issues.
- 61 percent said they would need an emergency response system.
- 48 percent said they would need smart-home devices, like a voice activated home assistant or a doorbell camera.
Some would consider leaving their home for one that allows them to age independently, particularly if it cost less or was physically easier to maintain. Yet some older adults may want to move but can’t, says Linna Zhu, a research associate at the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
“A portion of seniors are aging in place but are also stuck in place,” Linna Zhu observes. “They don’t have the financial resources to help them move or relocate or downsize, or they cannot afford to live in the nursing homes.”
Nearly half of those polled said they would consider alternative living options, including an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, which is a small dwelling that can be located on the property of an existing home or on a small piece of land. Sixty percent of adults said they would consider living in an ADU, and those 50-plus said they would consider making that move for the following reasons:
- To be near someone but maintain their space (69 percent)
- To have support doing daily activities (68 percent)
- To save money (48 percent)
What's more, 62 percent said they would consider building an ADU on their property for a loved one who needed care, or a family member or friend who needed a home.
ADUs “are a way to inject new housing options into existing communities and have the potential to provide the options that people want,” Harrell says. Building an ADU can be more affordable and can provide “more of the design features that people of all ages need than some of the older housing.”
Other respondents would consider sharing a home, preferably with a family member (69 percent) or a friend (54 percent). Very few said they would share a home with a stranger (6 percent).
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The survey revealed that 1 in 5 Americans is a family caregiver and 52 percent of all adults live in a multigenerational household.
Among those polled, 40 percent said they care for someone living in their home and 38 percent look after someone living on their own. Of those, nearly half worried about the ability of the person they care for to continue living independently.
These caregivers also place a high priority on housing that fits people’s needs as they age, with 59 percent ranking that as important. More than half said they value homes that are more accessible, with features like wide doorways, no-step entries, and first-floor bedrooms and bathrooms.
This group also places a high importance on finding capable home-repair contractors for low-income and older adults: 77 percent said they value having affordable, trustworthy workers who can do home modifications.
“This survey highlights hidden challenges family caregivers have when it comes to housing,” says Bob Stephen, AARP vice president of caregiving and health programs. “Housing needs have to be considered when planning to care for a loved one. … Family caregivers are more likely to say their home needs modifications to support someone with physical limitations.”
Michelle R. Davis joined AARP in 2020 and is the editor of the Home & Family channel on aarp.org. Previously, she was the senior writer and social media strategist for EdWeek Market Brief and a senior correspondent at Education Week. She also spent five years as a regional correspondent in Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, covering Congress and the White House.