15 Mar 2014

Ageing baby-boomers thinking smaller

9:48 am on 15 March 2014

Half of the baby-boomers surveyed for a study on ageing plan to move or downsize as they get older, which the study's authors say has implications for housing policy and planning.

The findings are the latest from a longitudinal study on ageing in New Zealand by a team of researchers from Massey University's School of Psychology. The study, called Independence, Contributions and Connections (ICC), surveyed 2000 people aged between 63 and 78 about a range of issues including housing, volunteering, employment, internet access and social connections.

Downsizing, but still with enough room for the cat.

Downsizing, but still with enough room for the cat. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Study co-leader Christine Stephens says the findings on housing revealed a significant emerging trend likely to have a major impact on the country's housing situation.

Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they expected to move to a new location, while 45 percent said they wanted to stay in the same area but move to a smaller residence.

"This is a significant indication when you consider that baby-boomers are one of the largest cohorts of our population and that we already have a housing shortage," Professor Stephens says.

She says that while government policy is focused on keeping people in their own homes, the survey suggests a glut of larger homes and a need for more small homes as boomers sell up and downsize.

Retirement village option

Just over a quarter of the respondents to the postal and internet survey said they would consider moving to a retirement home if their health declined to avoid family or whanau having to care for them.

But for those in good health, Professor Stephens says, it's time to consider housing models other than retirement villages. While these could be popular for older people wanting independence but with easy access to health and social facilities, they also effectively segregate older people from the rest of society.

They appeal to people seeking to feel safe and secure, Professor Stephens says, but "What happens is that residents tend to feel more fearful and anxious of the world outside their protected village. And it means their valuable experience, knowledge and skills are not being used or valued in the community."

Difficulties of keeping in touch

Regarding social connections, researchers found that 45 percent of baby-boomers keep in touch with family and friends through regular texting. But only a quarter to a third meet friends, children and neighbours face to face twice weekly or more.

"The issues raised by these initial findings focus more on who is not connecting," stated a summary of the survey section titled How we are keeping in touch.

"Older people in our sample are using a variety of ways of keeping in touch but the proportions for each mode are relatively small… This raises questions about the difficulties of keeping in touch as we get older and the problems of isolation and loneliness that some older people face."

The survey was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Preliminary results can be found online, with the opportunity for comment and feedback from the wider public.