How to Prepare for the Next Demographic Shift: Aging Baby Boomers

When considering the demographic shifts that may shape your city in the coming years, there’s one important trend to plan for: cities around the world are getting older. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report on aging cities, the world population of people 60 and older is expected to double by 2050. Coupled with increasing urbanization, cities around the world will need to adapt to aging populations. According to the same WHO report, the proportion of the older adult population residing in cities matches the younger adult population by about 80 percent and is anticipated to rise at the same pace.

Many areas around the United States are seeing this combination of aging and urbanization. By the year 2060, the number of Americans over age 65 is expected to double from 46 million to 98 million. A Forbes article, America’s Senior Moment: The Most Rapidly Aging Cities, notes that certain cities should be on the lookout for this trend, especially in Sun Belt cities like Las Vegas and across the southeast in cities like Atlanta and Raleigh. In many ways, these cities are experiencing what most parts of the country will see in the coming decades: According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of U.S. counties saw an increase in their 65-and-older population in the last six years—so, at some point, most cities will need to adjust to an aging community.

How can cities prepare?

As baby boomers age, they will experience specific needs that cities have to address. For example, as people retire, they will need to start living off of savings or Social Security—which, for many, means keeping a tighter budget. Older adults are also at increased risk for being isolated or feeling lonely, which can have severe adverse effects on health. Finally, many older people experience disabilities that may make it more difficult to get around the city.

With these challenges in mind, the WHO report on aging cities offers several pointers for cities looking to prepare for the shift:

  • Make public transportation available for key destinations such as hospitals, health centers, public parks, shopping centers, banks, and senior centers.

  • Ensure pedestrian-friendly walkways are free from obstructions, have smooth surfaces, and can be easily accessed.

  • Supply modified housing that it is caregiver and disability friendly.

  • Ensure that necessary amenities (like food) are accessible for those with low income, limited mobility, or disabilities.

  • Prevent social isolation of seniors by offering affordable, disability-friendly events which are easily accessible through public transit and held during the day or early evening.

  • Consult the older population to inform public policy on ways to serve them better, and positively depict them in the media, avoiding stereotypes.

  • Offer a range of employment opportunities for older residents.

In addition to these specific needs, the vision that older residents have for their communities often overlaps with the desires of younger residents, such as affordable housing and the ability to walk and bike.

This means that as cities make the necessary adjustments for this population change, they’ll likely also be making their cities better for all residents in the process.

Where are residents aging?

Knowing where baby boomers are living now and how to predict where they will be in the next decade will help cities coordinate specific efforts to respond to their needs. Certain parts of the country, like the Sun Belt and southeast as mentioned above, are under more pressure to adjust than others. Florida, for example, has long attracted older generations.

This map displays which Florida counties have the highest concentrations of baby boomers per capita. Sumter County, just west of Orlando, appears as the darkest green shade, meaning it contains the most baby boomers as a percentage of its total population. This is well-documented, especially considering The Villages in Sumter County contains one of the nation’s most rapidly-growing retirement communities.


However, if changed from a map of baby boomers per capita to a map simply showing where the most baby boomers live (not as a percentage of total population), it’s clear that the largest population of baby boomers in the state is actually along the southeast coast, in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.

 

This makes sense, considering the greater metropolitan area of Miami, which spans all three counties, makes it one of the largest metros in Florida. Miami, like many U.S. cities, must focus on the needs of aging residents. The first thing for cities like Miami to consider when targeting their planning efforts is where the baby boomers are currently living—and where they’ll be in the next two decades as the entire generation hits retirement age.

 

Using mySidewalk’s multi-select drawing tool, the entire Miami metropolitan area is selected in the map above, including communities such as Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. The darkest zip codes have the highest population of baby boomers currently, meaning cities can target efforts to respond to the needs of this population.

It’s also important for cities to know which areas may see an increase or decrease in their aging population in order to plan long-term responses, such as the inclusion of age-friendly policies in master development plans. Time Series data in mySidewalk can help us predict trends in the coming years. Scrolling over certain zip codes, the time series chart in the Charts tab on the left displays which areas can expect an increase in the baby boomer population, and which may see a decrease. For example, in zip code 33029, the number of residents age 65 to 74 is expected to continue its steady increase. 

 

How has Miami responded?

Miami, for its part, has an initiative in place to respond to the aging population. The Miami-Dade Age Friendly Initiative is a coordinated effort on the part of multiple stakeholders to “create a community where older adults of all ages can stay active, engaged, and healthy with dignity and enjoyment.” The agencies involved in the program include:

  • AARP Florida

  • Alliance for Aging

  • Health Foundation of South Florida

  • Miami-Dade County

  • Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization

  • United Way of Miami-Dade

  • Urban Health Partnerships

The initiative is comprised of several projects including an action plan to respond to aging, creation of employment opportunities, and the development of age-friendly infrastructure for parks, businesses, and transportation. To date, the initiative has made several important accomplishments, such as:

  • The launch of the Safe Routes to Age in Place initiative to make transportation safer for older adults, which was added to the WHO global database of age-friendly practices.

  • The implementation of an Age-Friendly Business District (AFDB) where more than 25 businesses have created incentives for older residents to walk to their stores one day a week.

  • The creation of a county-wide age-friendly park designation process.

Age-friendly initiatives and partnerships like this one are another great way for cities to prepare for an influx of older residents.

Adjusting to the shift is beneficial for everyone

Preparing for an aging population is beneficial for communities. Older residents make significant contributions to their communities. And, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in three volunteers in the United States is over 55 years old. Baby boomers are also more charitable than generations before them, and are anticipated to donate more than 6.6 trillion dollars in the next two decades as they retire. Accommodating this valuable segment of the population is beneficial for the health of the whole community.

While the contributions of older residents—and the need to prepare for their aging—are clear, many cities are still not ready for this rapidly changing demographic. If cities are unprepared, it could result in spaces that are un-navigable for a portion of their residents and risk the isolation of older community members. How cities predict the location of baby boomers over the next ten years, and prepare the spaces where they live, will result in a healthier and more livable city for everyone.

Using data to identify where Boomers are living and where change is happening is easy. Below is an example of how we created the Miami Metropolitan map above with mySidewalk's multi-select drawing tool. 

Miami Drawing Tools Example

mySidewalk is a data tool for people who want to understand places. With the ability to instantly answer thousands of community questions, mySidewalk makes it easy for anyone to use data to make better, more confident decisions. To learn more, visit our home page, or request a demo here.

About the Author

Jill Applegate recently graduated with degrees in Spanish and Political Science from Kansas State University. Jill is currently working in the Dominican Republic on the DREAM Project, an initiative that provides more than 670,000 hours of education to more than 7,0000 children in 27 different communities.