Panel Paper: Understanding the Residential Location Choices of Older Adults

Thursday, November 3, 2016 : 1:15 PM
Embassy (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jaclene Begley, Ryerson University and Sewin Chan, New York University

The older adult population is the fastest growing age group in the United States: the Census Bureau projects that people age 65 and older will comprise 20 percent of the population by 2030.  A strong, self-reported desire of older households to “age in place,” combined with the enormous fiscal cost of institutional long-term care has led to current public policy focused on enabling households to stay in their current homes and communities for as long as possible.  Numerous publications and resources describe strategies for promoting successful aging at home, and they generally emphasize the following: (i) homes that are appropriate, or easily adaptable for people with mobility difficulties; (ii) walkable streets and transportation options besides driving that can provide access to the local community; and (iii) proximity to a wide range of amenities, including health care, general retail services, and participatory community institutions, such as senior centers. 

Yet, despite the importance of housing and location characteristics to the well-being of seniors, we know surprisingly little about their actual residential choices and the primary factors that drive their decisions. To fill this knowledge gap, we use data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a large, biennial, nationally-representative panel survey of older adults that spans 1992 to 2014. In addition to detailed information on individuals and their homes, we have access to the restricted geocodes that allow us to merge in data on the local community from other sources (down to the census tract level), including age of the housing stock, density, access to public transportation, walkable streets, and proximity to health care services and other local amenities.

We undertake an in-depth descriptive analysis of households’ residential experiences starting around the time of retirement. We examine the various residential choices that seniors make, including continuing to live in a long time home, moving to another home within the same community, and making longer distance moves. Our rich dataset allows us to explore the role of individual characteristics and housing features in addition to neighborhood amenities. For example, housing wealth and affordability will be crucial factors in moving decisions, and we explore their relative importance in our analysis.  We also have detailed data on household ethnicity, including nativity, and we are able to examine whether there are differences in residential choices across these groups. 

For seniors who move to another home, we then compare the old and the new home along a variety of dimensions, including size, design and accessibility, cost, and the proximity of family members.  Ultimately, we highlight the factors that increase the likelihood of living in an aging-appropriate home, as measured by adaptability for mobility difficulties, access to the local community, and proximity to senior-appropriate amenities.