A Sobering Look at Longevity

A Blessing

I remember watching Al Roker, the TV weatherman, as he celebrated birthdays of seniors in their nineties, closing in on one hundred years of age. Each was newsworthy because such longevity was unusual. Nowadays we regularly hear about people living to or over the century mark. Often they’re living independently. More often than you’d expect, they live on their own in private residences. Longevity – what a blessing.

A Risk

This week I heard the term “longevity risk” for the first time. It was introduced by one of the esteemed members on a panel exploring “Health and Housing Needs for US Seniors in the “Middle Market”. The event I attended was a “Watch Party”; a Washington, DC forum live-streamed by North Carolina Mountain Region AARP. Longevity, a risk?That was a concept I’d never considered.

More of Us With More Years of Life

By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than age 65. This will expand the size of the older population so that 1 in every 5 residents will be at or over retirement age. “The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history,” said Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Housing May Be a Problem

Research by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, found households headed by older adults are increasingly located in low-density suburbs. In a growing number of suburban neighborhoods across the country, adults age 50 and over comprise a majority of the population.

Infographic showing US 50+ population 2000 vs 2016
US Cities Where 50% are Over 50, 2000 vs 2016

The geographic dispersion of older households is significant because lower-density areas are more difficult to service and typically provide few housing options other than single-family residences.

In addition, older adults are increasingly concentrated in locations where more than half of the population is at least age 50. Who do you call on for help when all your neighbors are aging? We’re also growing more racially and ethnically diverse (more due to lower native birthrates than in migration). And there’s a notably wide economic discrepancy between renters and homeowners. Too few of us have the income or savings to pay for the care we’ll need. All of this makes quality of life in the future more challenging.

Services and Supports for Older Adults May Be Difficult to Come By

Older adults living in lower-density (suburban and rural) places could face barriers to accessing desired services, community centers, and social networks given limited transportation options. For example, a 2010 survey by the National Center for Senior Transportation found that older adult transportation services were all less likely to be available in rural areas than elsewhere. These include public transportation, complementary paratransit, private taxis, transportation vouchers, and more. Additionally, the number of healthcare providers in rural areas is relatively smaller than the number in urban areas. Longevity is not so much fun if you can’t get around or easily obtain the healthcare support you need.

Who Owns the Longevity Risk?

Today: The Family

The majority of long-term services and supports have been provided by family members. In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities. The estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was approximately $470 billion in 2013, up from an estimated $450 billion in 2009. But the supply of family caregivers is unlikely to keep pace with future demand.

Older to Younger Ratio Shifts
Without preparation you could become a burden to family or be in deep trouble.

AARP defines a “caregiver support ratio” as the number of potential caregivers aged 45–64 for each person aged 80 and older. Their 2013 report uses this support ratio to estimate the availability of family caregivers during the next few decades.

In 2010, the caregiver support ratio was more than 7 potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk years of 80-plus. By 2030, the ratio is projected to decline sharply to 4 to 1; and it is expected to further fall to less than 3 to 1 in 2050, when all boomers will be in the high-risk years of late life. What are we to do about the Longevity risk?

Tomorrow: We’re All In This Together

As the baby boomers begin to turn 80 in the next decade, growing numbers of households will require affordable, accessible housing as well as supportive services. State and local governments and the private and nonprofit sectors, all have roles to play in developing more affordable and suitable housing for older adults. But given the current and growing scale of need, addressing the challenges of housing America’s older adults must also be a federal priority. Unless policy and practice change, our communities will be deprived of the longevity bonus – the ongoing participation of older adults in family and civic life.

We as families and individuals have a huge responsibility to plan for the future and to advocate for more age-friendly housing and communities.

Admit it. Arranging for your lifestyle needs after graduation from high school or college required research, planning and diligent effort. You may also remember arduous planning for a wedding. Prepping for parenthood? Lots of thought, space adaptation, purchases to accommodate that major lifestyle change. Longevity is no less a major transition. If you’re lucky enough to reach age 50, you should be smart enough to be preparing for true old age. We can’t plan for the unknown, but each of us can reflect on our personal preferences and consider the lifestyle options that are currently within reach.

Use this link to research the costs associated with senior care.

 Information for this post was drawn from:

HOUSING AMERICA’S OLDER ADULTS, 2018, by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.


The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers, by Donald Redfoot, Lynn Feinberg, and Ari Houser at the

AARP Public Policy Institute


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