The underlying message from the recent report released by the Senate Joint Economic Committee is clear from its title, “An Invisible Tsunami: ‘Aging Alone’ and Its Effect on Older Americans, Families, and Taxpayers.” The report looks at the worrisome trend toward increasing social isolation among older Americans.
The report examines trends of social support among adults ages 61 to 63 from 1994 to 2014 by several measures — think children living within 10 miles, married or cohabiting, and good friends in the neighborhood. Each trend line is down over the 20-year period. The report argues that “older Americans in the future are unlikely to have the level of support from caregivers that they enjoyed in the past.”
There are some countervailing trends that suggest the value of community is being rediscovered by aging Americans in recent years. For example, the number of retirees who say they moved within five years after retirement has fallen from a high of 23% in 1980 to 15% in 2015. When retirees pick up stakes, they’re most likely to move within the same county.
“The urbanized retired population is likely choosing to stay near friends, family, and the cultural attractions, like sporting teams and theaters, that they have come to know well,” write Matt Fellowes and Lincoln Plews in “The State of Retirees.”
The reports emphasize different data but agree that human connections are critical. Healthy social connections contribute to meaningful longevity.
One reason I focus so much on staying employed during the traditional retirement years is partly for the money. The other factor is that the workplace is a community.
The strength and depth of connections and social support is also critical when it comes to deciding where you will you live in your later years.
Most people want to stay in their current residence for as long as possible. Aging-in-place is an attractive idea. But you should investigate not only what it could be like to age in your home but also, more importantly, to age in your community. You don’t want to be lonely.
Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, recommends thinking through these three questions in planning for a good quality of life with age: Who will change my light bulbs? How will I get an ice cream cone? Who will I have lunch with? Your answers should help you plan for aging in a home and community with strong connections and community support.
Chris Farrell is a senior economics contributor for “Marketplace” and a commentator for Minnesota Public Radio.