Harvard Study: Most Older Adults Do Not Reside in ‘Livable’ Communities

Most older adults do not reside in livable communities, and major differences arise when looking at who has access to the most livable communities, and who does not. These are the conclusions drawn by a new report released by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) and the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Some of the major differences in access to livable communities comes from whether a senior is a homeowner or a renter. Other factors that affect this determination include race/ethnicity, whether or not he or she lives with a disability, and the amount of income the senior has access to from either later-life employment or fixed income sources such as government benefits like Social Security.

Defining ‘livability’

For the purposes of the study, “livability” is defined as places that score high marks on the AARP Livability Index. That index is a web-based tool, where a user can enter his or her address to find an overall livability score, as well as a score for each of seven major livability categories which have been determined by the institute: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement and opportunity.

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The index itself can also be customized in order for a user to place a higher or lower emphasis on each individual aspect of these things that is more or less important to them. The study aimed to determine the equality of access to livable spaces regardless of their own individual circumstances, comparing index data with the American Community Survey (ACS) for community conditions and population demographics.

Even when taking into account the sometimes subjective perspectives that accompany a livability standard, the result of the data and the survey at-large paints a less-than-ideal picture of the state of housing for American seniors in particular.

Findings for seniors

According to the data, the survey concludes plainly that the majority of American seniors do not reside in communities which reach the threshold of livability as defined by the researchers.

“More people ages 50 and older are living in neighborhoods that score lower on the Index than in neighborhoods that receive the highest scores,” the survey writes of its results. “This finding suggests that lower-livability neighborhoods, where more older people live, have work to do to become better places to live for people of all incomes, ability levels, and ages. However, even the most livable places can still do more to ensure the community features that make them livable are accessible to all people as they age.”

The survey also finds that the livability of communities for seniors is not evenly distributed in terms in its current form.

“Access to the most livable places differs by several variables: tenure (i.e., whether a person is a homeowner or renter), presence of a disability (as self-identified in the American Community Survey), race/ethnicity, and income,” the survey reads. “For example, by tenure, renters are more prevalent in neighborhoods with high livability scores. Meanwhile, the percentage of older adults with disabilities is lower in high livability neighborhoods than in low livability neighborhoods. And as for the demographic of race/ethnicity, Asian older adults make up a larger share of the population in more livable neighborhoods, while the share of White older adults falls as livability increases.”

Shares of Black and Hispanic older adults “hold fairly steady” across neighborhoods at all levels of livability, but levels of income proved to be a major factor in determining the presence of an older adult in a livable neighborhood.

“Notably, the shares of middle-income older adults are highest in low-livability neighborhoods, while shares of lower-income older adults are higher at both the highest and lowest levels of livability (with smaller shares of lower-income older adults in places between),” the survey says. “The analysis cannot say, however, whether access to livability resources within a neighborhood is equitable.”

It was also determined based on the data that for those older adults who moved into a new neighborhood, the livability scores of the neighborhoods they move to largely have parity with the conditions of the neighborhood that they moved away from.

Read the survey results at the Harvard JCHS website.

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