Jackie Stone

In 1945, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recommended that America protect itself from a nuclear attack by decentralizing and dispersing the population. Essentially, it advocated for moving people out of densely packed cities into more sprawling suburbs. Many of America’s city planners took this recommendation to heart, building the network of interconnected suburbs that have become the fabric of modern America.

These urban planners were backed up by financial institutions that subsidized suburban mortgages for veterans; meanwhile, manufacturers also did their duty by building large, suburban facilities for the production of goods. Ultimately, this led to the construction of our modern interstate road system, which further enabled decentralized living. This was the world today’s Baby Boomers grew up in. Sprawling suburbs were the ideal, while densely packed cities were shunned as unsafe and dirty.

Today, those Baby Boomers are retiring. The values that they have grown up with — and held throughout their lives — will absolutely shape their buying decisions when it comes to senior living. Senior living communities, that might have been traditionally apartment based, have worked to expand their offerings to single-family dwellings on streets that look suspiciously suburban. Boomers don’t want to downsize, so we’ve adopted euphemisms like “right-sizing” to make the process of moving into a smaller abode more palatable. Heck, some Boomers are moving into retirement residences that are the same size or bigger than their current house!

For many Boomers, one of the biggest selling points for retirement communities is that they can have the idyllic suburban life without all of the work. Gone are the days of home maintenance, snow shoveling and lawn care. Instead, they can enjoy a full slate of “life enrichment” activities without worrying about the everyday hassles life might throw at them. In short, for the Boomers that can afford it, they have achieved the perfect model of suburban living that was designed and propagated in their youth.

But what comes next? In 20 years, when Gen-Xers are retiring, and the first wave of Millennials are calculating when they can quit working, will aging services organizations have the options they are looking for? We are already seeing a trend of Millennials who desire and seek out urban living. Will manicured streets full of stylishly similar cottages appeal to their desires?

As senior living marketers, our job is to fill our communities today. At Varsity, we often wonder what the future will hold. The Boomer wave is crashing at our shores, so we are adapting to meet the tides. Once that wave recedes, however, we may be looking at a very different landscape — one full of underutilized cottages that don’t appeal to the next generation of retirees.

Who would have thought that the reverberations of World War II would still be felt in retirement communities nearly 80 years later? The successful aging services providers of tomorrow will be the ones that can anticipate the needs of post-Boomer consumers and pivot flawlessly in between the generations.