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Where We Live, Where We Age: Trends in Home and Community Preferences

2021 Home and Community Preferences Survey: A National Survey of Adults Age 18-Plus

A new survey by AARP shows most Americans during the pandemic were able to adjust their lifestyles, stay connected to their communities, and maintain their health. And while older adults were more concerned about the impact of COVID-19, they reported feeling less isolated than younger respondents did.

The national poll of nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. conducted in June finds adults of all ages consider themselves relatively healthy: 85% say they are in good, very good, or excellent health, and just 15% describe their health as fair or poor. Many were able to remain safe in the last year by transforming their homes into centers of activity for remote work, shopping, and socializing. 

Most older adults in the U.S. (79%) own their own homes and about half have paid off their mortgage. The survey indicates about three-quarters of those 50+ would like to stay in their current homes or communities for as long as possible, compared to about half of those ages 18–49 who feel the same.

To be able to age in place, 34% of older respondents recognize they may need to make physical changes to their house, such as modifying a bathroom or installing ramps in their homes. A quarter of those surveyed anticipate putting an addition on their house or doing some other major renovation.

American adults often live with others (83%) and rely on one another for support. 

Sixty percent are married or living with a partner; just 17 percent live alone. About 13% of respondents say they are a family caregiver—meaning that they help an adult loved one regularly with personal needs, visits, transportation, or managing medical care. Of those, 40% live with the person for whom they are caring.

Transportation can be a driver in decisions about living situations, with AARP reporting 87% of all U.S. adults drive cars themselves, including 65 percent of people ages 85 and older. With more public transportation options, people who live in urban are less apt to drive (83%). The population of American adults of all ages is distributed fairly equally between cities (28%), suburban areas (37%), and small towns or rural areas (33%).

As for relocating, residents of rural areas and small towns report wanting to stay in the same type of community (78%), while urbanites were more open to going to the suburbs or the country.

Looking into the future, most adults say they don’t want to move. 

If they had an illness or disability, two-thirds of the survey respondents indicate they want to have a combination of help from family and paid professionals in their own homes.

Regardless of what they may want, 18% expect to relocate to a different residence in their community and 29% think they will likely go to a different community altogether, according to AARP. Of the various options, 44% would opt for a neighborhood with people of all ages while 32% like an active community designed for adults over age 55 and 32% prefer a continuing care community.

Most adults (69%) would consider sharing their home with a relative (other than their spouse) or a friend (54%) as they grow older, AARP finds.

As for the popularity of accessory dwelling units (ADU)—small, residential dwellings located on the same lot as, but independent of, a primary dwelling unit—4% of respondents have one on their property and 26% would consider one if they had the space. (ADUs can be either detached or be part of the primary unit, such as with above-garage apartments or in-law suites.) 

What matters in choosing a new place? Top of the list is a home where a person can live independently as they age. Other factors include the cost of maintaining their current home and finding a house that’s easier to keep up. American adults surveyed most often look for areas that are safer, have a lower cost of living, have more affordable housing, and are located closer to family.

In selecting a community, AARP finds people want access to grocery stores, health care providers, safe parks, trails and streets, and opportunities for community engagement. 

Methodology

The AARP research was based on 25-minute surveys with 2,826 Americans ages 18 and over. It was weighted to reflect a diverse sample. Of the respondents, 2,687 answered online; 139 by phone. The results have a confidence interval of ± 2.58 percent.

For more information, please contact Joanne Binette at jbinette@aarp.org. For media inquiries, please contact External Relations at media@aarp.org.

Suggested citation:

Binette, Joanne. 2021 Home and Community Preference Survey: A National Survey of Adults Age 18-Plus. Washington, DC: AARP Research, November 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00479.001

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