What Boomers Want

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Over the next few decades 50% of the U.S. population will be 60 years of age or older. As Dr. Dennis Domer explains it, we will have a gerontocracy run mostly by women. But we’d be mistaken if we think the boomers are going to move quietly into nursing homes. Domer and the team he works with have something different in mind.

New Cities: Long Life Communities is a project at the University of Kansas that is working to create an intergenerational community in west Lawrence, Kansas. The community is based off research that shows most boomers want the same things.

So what do boomers want?

  • 95% want to live close to nature
  • 100% want walkable communities
  • Continuing education opportunities
  • To live close to friends, children, and, especially, grandchildren
  • Age integrated communities
  • Access to healthcare

In his talk at the Built Environment and the Outdoors Summit, Dr. Domer, himself in his late 60’s and three-time retiree, explained these needs and desires as inherent to the psychological and physical well-being of boomers. Grandparents provide emotional support and learning that busy parents can’t, while grandkids give life and purpose back to their grandparents. During his college years, Domer explains that anyone could go to college – it was cheap. No one had to worry about studying very hard since finding a job after school was simply a choice of: which one? Often, these individuals stayed at these jobs for 30 or more years. Upon retirement, boomers are now more interested than ever in getting back to school to learn things they’re truly passionate about.

Age integration is another thing boomers want. Domer recalled how, in his day, it was common for children and adolescents to interact with individuals who were much older. Todays younger generations have lost the ability to interact, face-to-face, with older generations because our nuclear family units and communities are so age-segregated. Reintegration, Domer argues, is good for everyone. When asking his class to talk about their grandparents, emotions run high, even for those who had never met theirs, suggesting that some in our younger generations are potentially missing out by not having these intergenerational interactions.

The community being planned in Lawrence will develop infrastructure to attract both mothers 40 years of age or older and boomers 60 and older, many of whom will likely be KU alum. Through this effort the planners hope to pair these mentors with children in the community to provide the emotional and psychological support once common in long-gone decades. The neighborhood will consist of 600 living units, including apartments, single-family homes, condos, and houses with granny flats attached. To support the health needs of aging boomers who prefer to live at home, a satellite health center will be built within the community.

Is it possible to create such a community? If one thing is certain, it’s that boomers won’t be giving up their rights and moving into nursing homes anytime soon. Visit the project website to stay updated on how things are progressing.

Kate Hoppe, MPH, MA

I'm passionate about co-creating healthy, equitable, and resilient communities and glad to offer my diverse skill-set to others working to make a difference.