Baby Boom Women & Their Homes

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Baby Boomer women  (females currently between ages 51 and 69) take great pride in their Homes: they have equated home with family, worked extra time to pay the mortgage, and spent their discretionary income (if any) on home improvements and décor. Certain retailers personify the suburban home: Williams-Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, and Bed Bath and Beyond. These stores celebrate ‘Home’. But, since 2008, these home-goods stores have not been gaining economic ground. Boomer women may find an analogy: their suburban homes may tether them to an earlier time and thwart them from a prosperous retirement.

The recent book, Aging Well in Suburbia, Gray Homes|Green Cars notes multiple reasons why suburban homes may be no place for old men… the reasons are even more compelling for women.

Women, Age, and Mobility 

The overarching reason has to do with mobility. As they age, women tend to reduce the frequency of car trips, and the length of their travel, sooner than men. Perhaps women, more realistically than men, assess the hazard of a car accident and injuring others. Curiously, Baby Boomer women were the first cohort to drive almost as much as men and claim dual-car households (see: McGuckin and Lynott, AARP Public Policy Institute) Yet they are already leading the charge to cut back their driving. In 2009, only 89 percent of women, aged fifty to sixty-four were drivers, compared with 95 percent of men that age (see: Lynott and Figuerido, AARP). Among women over age seventy-five (The Silent Generation) only 61 percent were drivers.

To the extent that women choose to age in the suburbs, this is a disturbing trend. If the ability to drive is compromised, a suburban home could make aging-in-place a lonelier, more isolating experience. Although home delivery services are burgeoning, a package dropped at the doorstep is not a substitute for a vital, active connection to the larger community.

Women, Age, and Home Upkeep 

The problems for women who age in suburbia go beyond transportation.  In Aging in Suburbia we observe that maintaining a home and doing basic upkeep has been the purview of both genders. But, because they will live longer older women will, going forward, carry both the mortgage and shoulder more home maintenance.  More than fifty percent of Baby Boomers are retiring with outstanding mortgages, since they bought or refinanced late-in-life. In addition, their homes, many built nearly fifty years ago, require extensive upkeep, plus cutting the grass, painting, keeping the gutters clear, and so on. Although some women will have resources to “outsource” this work, this can be onerous, even with the best of help. In 2011, nearly one-half of older women, age 75+, lived alone (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services).

Women, Age, and  Reverse Mortgage 

There are additional reasons why Baby Boom women and housing may not mix well. A key one is tied to having sufficient resources to age in place. Boomers, both men and women, are entering retirement with financial worries, due to job losses and private pension woes. They may come to discover that their home can be leveraged as a financial instrument, called the reverse mortgage.

The kicker, however, is that the cash payout for a reverse mortgage is linked to the age of the youngest home-owner named on the deed. Women need to be listed when their spouse applies for a reverse mortgage; otherwise, they will not have legal rights to the property if the spouse dies. There has been a reluctance to list a younger spouse, since it reduces the monthly stipend or lump sum payment from the payout. The payout is based on actuarial data, and lenders reflect the fact that women will outlive male spouses.

Home-Sweet-Home? 

Transportation, home maintenance, and home equity are three issues that will make aging in place a challenge for older women.  These are the tip of the iceberg; yet brand new issues will surface, as the Boomers are the first generation to fully age in far-flung suburbs.  Their suburban homes will be an expensive centerpiece.  Baby Boom women may question whether their daily affairs should rotate around the upkeep of their home, particularly as the need for multi-bedrooms and mega-spaces fades.  When it becomes taxing to drive at night, unsafe to stroll without sidewalks, and maintenance becomes a chore, the essence of home-sweet-home may change.  We pose these questions in Aging in Suburbia, Gray Homes|Green Cars. Boomer women, ever resourceful, who have worked so hard to beautify their existing homes, may discover joyfulness in new ones.

Aging and House Selling

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As Baby Boomers reflect on the future of aging and driving, they will need to confront whether to age-in-place or sell the manse. Whether their house will be selling profitably and leave them equity, the so-called A.T.M. effect, will depend upon where it is located. In large urban areas, house prices have increased with growing demand. But, what is the outlook for far-flung suburbs where Baby Boomers once made the “drive to qualify?”

In earlier blogs, we noted that Millennials leaving San Francisco proper, are still settling in relatively close-in burbs. Burlingame, for example, is a preferred destination for families leaving San Francisco, because it has a BART connection and Caltrain. So, while gaining a single-family house and the white picket fence, new owners still have accessibility with public transportation.

A similar scenario is taking place far-away, on the Atlantic coast. A recent story in the Boston Globe called, “Millennial Movement,” notes that “as high costs push them farther out in the Boston suburbs, more young people are finding the lifestyle they prefer.” The reporter, Katheleen Conti, observes that young Bostonians are choosing to live beyond the dense areas of Cambridge, Somerville, and, Boston. The kicker, however, is their preference for inner suburbs.

According to data, these young Millennials are choosing to live in Massachusetts’s suburbs like Waltham, Brookline, Watertown, Framingham, and Shirley. In some of these areas, notably Waltham and Brookline, there are large universities nearby. But, what all of the locations have in common, including Shirley, is public transportation to Boston. (Shirley, an hour from Boston, has a total population of only 7,400).

In a closely related article, a chamber of commerce president from the near-in suburbs of Newton and Needham is quoted as saying that Millennials like a “bump factor.” That means they like the idea of running into friends and colleagues. So, housing with more communal-type spaces and buildings with big lobbies and Wi-Fi, is preferred.

Meanwhile, the president of a different Chamber of Commerce, in farther-out Burlington, is quoted too. He is trying to figure out how to arrange (shuttle) transportation so his region can attract workforce techies from Boston and Cambridge.

Baby Boomers who have homes in the inner suburbs have little to worry about. Unless tastes change, they should be able to use their home, when they retire, as the proverbial A.T.M. In other words, when they come to house selling- they should be fine-providing providing they can find a less expensive place to move to. Not all Millennials will choose to live in the city, and there is a growing trend to in-fill the inner suburbs. Perhaps some Millennials will discover towns beyond Shirley and public transportation. But, for Baby Boomers who have settled further out, the future is not clear. Until public transportation reaches their far-flung suburbs, “drive-to-qualify” homes may be going down.

Aging and Driving- Abroad

germanheartBeyond our stereotypes of Oktoberfest and Autobahns, Germany seems to have created a better environment for aging-in-place. They have developed alternatives for aging and driving that could be imported, along with their fine cars and good beer. Despite their love of cars, they have developed a transportation network that is less car-dependent and age-friendlier. It is also safer and, importantly, healthier.

First, background: Germany has the third-largest proportion of elderly people worldwide, after Japan and Italy. The life expectancy is 85 years for women and 82 for men. GlobalAirWatch and HelpAge International recently ranked Germany fifth in a study on the quality-of-aging. Their report has an interesting observation:

“With 90 percent of people over 50 saying that they had friends or relatives they could count on in an emergency, the country (Germany) was well above average, and people largely felt safe, free to make their own choices and satisfied with the public transport system in their area.”

Next, we turn to information about the transportation system in Germany. This comes from extensive research done by Ralph Bueler at Virginia Tech, and then tweeted by CityLab.

As we cite it, keep in mind that manufacturing vehicles is a pivotal industry for both Germany and the U.S. Car ownership rates in Germany are high, but do not top the rates in the U.S. However, it is the difference in trip taking (i.e., when and how the Germans use their cars) that is astonishing: Germans take 9 percent of their trips on public transit, 24 percent by walking, and 10 percent by cycling. The comparable numbers for the U.S. are 2% transit, 11% walking and 1% cycling.

The differences do not stop there. Despite the higher number of walking and bicycle trips, the fatality rate in German is only 1.6 people per 100 million kilometer (km) cyclist miles, and 1.9 per 100 million km pedestrian miles walked. The comparable rates for the U.S. are 5.5 fatalities (bicycles) and 9.7 (walking).

These comparisons are for all age groups- not just the elderly. In a separate paper, Bueler and co-authors* report that the percentage of Germans age 65 and older who walk at least 30 minutes a day was five times higher than the share of elderly Americans (28.6% vs. 5.9%). Likewise, the percentage reporting 30 minutes of cycling per day was 13 times greater for the elderly in German than in the U.S. (6.5% vs. 0.5%).

But, add to this an additional and astonishing statistic. It is estimated that 12 percent of the German population is obese, compared to nearly one-quarter of those in the U.S.

The obesity rates are based on self-reported data, but if true, there is a trail to follow. This trail is about having a transportation system that enables people (of all ages) to be less car-dependent, keep more fit, and somehow, be less vulnerable to pedestrian and bicycle accidents too. It is also about living in places where there is less need to drive and stocking up on milk and bread does not entail a trip in the car.

As a society we have not accumulated full knowledge about the linkages between aging well and transportation choices. But, we can speculate. We do know that there are important connections between ‘health and obesity’ and between ‘health and safety’. Baby Boomers in the U.S., can look to Germany for ideas on aging, well-being and transportation.

*R. Buehler, J. Pucher, D. Merom and A. Bauman, “Active Travel in Germany and the U.S.,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Vol. 40, no. 9, Sept. 2011.

Aging and Driving

aging and transportation ...a new partner, the Smartphone
aging and transportation …a new partner, the Smartphone

Aging and driving will not go well for the Baby Boomers unless they are prepared to learn some new Smartphone lessons.

A recent study looks at how technology helps people get around a city without a car. It turns out that a Smartphone is the entry point. Would-be travelers can access services like real-time transit information, ride-hailing, virtual ticketing, multi-modal trip-planning apps, and bike-share…using their phones.

The travel report about Smartphones was written in 2012 and 2013 by the Frontier Group and the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)*. They rated 70 cities on the availability of technology-assisted transportation. Austin, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., were ranked as the top three cities. The rankings depended on two criteria: the number of transportation service providers and the number of services available.

This ranking may seem esoteric to those who are car-dependent, but services like Lyft and Uber, car sharing, and real-time bus information are literally “fueled” by technology and Smartphones. For users, they bring entirely new options and expand the availability of transportation choices.

The youngest generation, known as Digital Natives, turn to their phones first when they want to travel. In urban areas, Smartphones help them optimize the route and the travel mode. Meanwhile, they can continue to text or work once they start the trip, assuming they are not a solo driver.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are slow to the game and still sitting, solo in their cars often fuming at the traffic. Boomers surely use Google maps to navigate or Nextbus, if they use transit, but few of them delve deeper into their transportation apps. The average Boomer household owns close to two cars, and has little need for alternatives. Yet.

Meanwhile, transportation providers that service older people, like Dial-A-Ride and medical vans, operate completely outside of the mobile app/Smartphone range. There is little attention to how these services can reach the suburbs. As the Frontier report notes, “(governments) .., have not begun to tap into areas beyond the major cities in which they have taken root, surmount economic and other barriers to the use of those alternatives, and explore the potential uses of Internet and mobile communications technologies in expanding access to high-quality public transportation in areas that currently do not have the population density to sustain such service.

Travel in the suburbs continues to reflect the infrastructure and investment of an earlier time before digital communications. The investment in roads and cars suited a country in which Detroit reigned, and one in eight jobs was in automotives. As technology moves forward, there are newer ways to expand our transportation network, without building new roads.

And these new ways will be ever-important (or Uber important), if Baby Boomers wish to age-in-place.

*News story:

http://www.uspirg.org/news/usf/new-report-ranks-70-major-american-cities%E2%80%99-tech-transportation-options

 

Aging and Driving New Tech

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If you are wondering about the status of the driverless vehicle, there is an article by Bryan Reimer that you should read.

http://ppar.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/1/27.full

But first, consider that new vehicles bought off the lot today, are typically equipped with power steering, power brakes, and an automatic transmission. When the Baby Boomers acquired their first cars, in the 1960’s and 1970’s those were “luxury options” that could be ordered on some vehicles, for a hefty fee. As the Baby Boomers age, they can only hope that their final, ultimate vehicle will be equipped with a further set of options: radar-like sensors, adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.

The MIT scientist, Bryan Reimer says that in many ways, the automated, driverless vehicle will solve aging-in-suburbia. A fully automated vehicle will transform business, safety, and urban design…. there will no longer be a need for taxis, designated drivers, and possibly even parking garages. Reimer notes that, “the automated car would all but solve the mobility impairments associated with advancing age.”

However, we are not there yet. Automotive engineering will have to progress through distinct stages. Reimer does not give a timetable for these stages, but if Baby Boomers are sincere in their desire to “age in place,” the ground work needs to be underway. In ten years, the youngest of the Boomers will reach age 60, and nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 and older.

“Level-one stages” of automation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are partially met. When a driver looses control, electronic stability control helps “steer” the vehicle and more advanced systems also reduce engine power until control is regained. In 1995, luxury vehicles like Mercedes-Benz and BMW incorporated electronic stability control and it has gradually been recognized for its role in preventing accidents. It has been phased into new car production since 2009 and become mandatory since 2012. Future examples of level-one automations are a collision-imminent braking system, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.

With level-two automation, drivers will partially cede control of some functions to automation. At level-three, still somewhat undefined says Reimer, there are further functions that move from driver to computer. Parking-assist, which is available on some cars today, is a precursor of automation to come. For some, it is unimaginable to have a car do what many drivers cannot accomplish themselves….parallel parking! But, on a more homely and practical level, motorists might want this capability if they have physical difficulty turning their neck, or moving the steering wheel quickly.

The adoption of the driverless car can be compared to the adoption of cell phones. In the 1990s, cell phones were still expensive and bulky. An interim technology, the cordless, but tethered receiver, initiated users to the advantages of a wireless, mobile phone. If you asked someone in 1990 why he/she needed a mobile phone without a cord, he/she would be puzzled. The driverless car is equally mysterious and misunderstood today. And, until it is more widely demonstrated, people react to it with a certain mistrust of robotics and AI. But, the automated car is like the “cell phone” for those who want to age-in-place and plan to combine aging and driving. Boomers, who are fond of driving today, will seek out this technology as their ticket to aging-in-place, particularly if that place is suburbia.