21 April 2020

The downside of age segregation

Thought-provoking excerpts from an interesting op-ed piece at Bloomberg:
For most of the nation’s history, the idea that people over the age of 65 would voluntarily herd themselves into special communities built around their needs would have seemed absurd, even dystopian. Yet a largely voluntary movement towards segregating people by age has reached extreme levels in recent years – and without receiving much attention at all. The coronavirus outbreak could put an end to it.

In 1850, nearly 70% of individuals age 65 or older lived with their adult children. Most of the rest tended to live in close geographical proximity. As a consequence, older people were more or less evenly distributed throughout the country.

This arrangement was highly functional: The elderly needed help as they aged, and children and grandchildren provided it. In return, the elderly took care of young children, and otherwise pulled their weight around the house.

Home was not the only place where people of different ages mixed together in ways they are all too rare today. Prior to the twentieth century, it was entirely normal to have a one-room schoolhouse catering to both teens and toddlers. When rural communities held quilting parties, everyone from young girls to elderly matrons participated side by side. Farmworkers of all ages toiled together, and armies in the Civil War threw together young boys, older men, and everyone in between...

Several developments fueled this [modern sorting into "age buckets."] The first was a growing belief that older people couldn’t keep up in the fast-paced, modern world of work. Mandatory retirement ages – often coupled with increasingly generous pension benefits – helped push workers out the door at a certain age...

All of this took place against a very gradual decline in the number of old people living with their children.  The mix of public and private retirement programs enabled some of the elderly to live on their own, but there’s evidence that in many cases, children moved away from their parents to pursue economic opportunities, effectively abandoning the older generation. So the elderly, particularly those with retirement savings, embraced a new trend that burst onto the scene after World War II: the retirement community...

In 1965, Congress created Medicare and Medicaid, helping finance the creation of low-budget, state-run “nursing homes” that increasingly warehoused the elderly...  By the 1990s, a growing number of facilities designed to bridge the gap between fun-filled retirement centers and grim nursing homes came into being: the rise of “assisted living” facilities, “memory-care villages,” and other facilities for the elderly...

Ultimately, the U.S. became one of the most age-segregated nations in the world. Recent research indicates that a third of Americans over the age of 55 live exclusively among people in the same age cohort...

The pandemic may change that...
More at the link.


  1. I have no problem with retirement communities. I see them as dorms for old people. And just as this virus will not end campus dorms, or cruise ships, it will not end retirement communities. Because they have value.

    Many people can not and do not want to live with their off spring. Some don't have children. We can't build all homes tailored to the needs to elderly people, but we can build some. It's very efficient to have geriatric care professionals be able to serve many people together.

    We do need to demand that our governments are better prepared for the next pandemic.

    And we need to stop electing idiots that are too stupid to understand that they don't understand what's going on. And that's not a reference to just one person. When this is all over, we can see which governments did things right and which didn't. And we'll see that the most boring governments did best.

    1. I agree -- I intentionally looked for a "senior" apartment (I was 59 when I found it.) I loved my kids when they were growing up and I adore my grandsons but I really have no interest in listening to other people's babies or kids screaming -- or their teenagers' making a racket (although that phenomenon has probably diminished since most music comes now through earbuds rather than the mega-speakers of the past.)

      I enjoy having neighbors who are mostly retired (since I can't work for medical issues, it feels friendlier and safer than being in a place deserted during the work week, which I did for my first year post-divorce and post-house.) There is always someone to chat with, people know my name, and there are plenty of activities to participate in (including free birthday cake every month for everyone, to celebrate everyone's birthday that month.)

      I suppose it helps too that I am an introvert whose interests lie more in reading and research though, so I, in turn, am not a noisy neighbor.

      It's funny how you mentioned dorms -- it does feel exactly like that, cliques and all. There's the sporty bunch who are at all the exercise classes, the prayer group, the flirty party girls who are always pushing to get live bands in to dance to, the supercilious ones who believe they're socially superior, and the artsy crowd, etc.! I'm not a group-person so I've avoiding joining anyone but it's a very pleasant, nearly all-female, and very safe environment. I couldn't be happier.

  2. Love the sentiment
    My great uncle was sent to a nursing home by his adult children and all he ever did was desperately want to leave and go home. Nursing homes are sad places, in my experiences. The places change, but the conditions I have witnessed, are the same
    Its difficult emotionally to visit for more than a short time; home they ain't.

    Adult semi-independent/assisted living organizations can be better, though.

    1. Nursing homes can be very sad places -- my former MIL was in one for a very short time after open heart surgery and was perfectly miserable there. For two nights she had a roommate who had Alzheimers and screeched and screamed in terror all night because she didn't understand where she was or why. (And that was a GOOD nursing home.) But, bottom line, sometimes they're the only place that can handle the medical or other needs of seniors. My former FIL, I understand, has finally had to be put in a care facility. His Alzheimers progressed to the point that this formerly mild-mannered man had started to actually punch his in-home, night-time caregiver. So, needs must.

  3. I do wonder which strategy is preferable for a pandemic though. There is some limited evidence that the death toll was so high in Italy precisely because the elderly co-habitate with their working family members that go out into the world and have a new opportunity to bring the infection back to them each day.


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