How do tomorrow’s older people really want to live?

02 FEB 2021

“Whenever we talk about older people and ageing, we tend to talk about people with rollators – because that’s all that springs to mind!”

So says the research leader for the Ageing Research and Housing Studies Department at NOVA (Oslo Met), Hans Christian Sandlie. He continues with a smile: “The truth is that tomorrow’s older people are people like me (in just a few years)! People like me have to start planning housing that accounts for the fact that we are ageing.”

When we put this idea in perspective, we realise that it is completely accurate. In just 10 years, “The Beatles” will not be the soundtrack of retirees’ childhoods – “Queen” and “ABBA” will slowly but surely begin to take over as “golden oldies”. Sandlie believes that it is important to remember exactly who the older people of tomorrow are, and that holds especially true when talking about housing concepts.

Written by Sofie Anthonie Lysø

How do tomorrow’s older people really want to live?

Before we answer this question, we should first go into why the question itself is important. In June 2020, SSB published an article discussing a “historic shift” in the Norwegian population. The article concluded that “in 10 years, there will be more older people than children in the general population” (SSB, 2020). This trend is not unique to Norway – the 65+ demographic is growing rapidly all over the world.

It follows naturally that in an ageing society, an ever-larger portion of its housing needs will be taken up by this group. This is further supported by “Eldrebølgen”, a 2020 study from Prognosesenteret on the so-called “Silver Wave”. Among its findings was the fact that 75% of new housing demands in the coming years will come from the 65+ demographic (Prognosesenteret 2020)

The next generation of older people and retirees want better health and better homes

The Council for an Ageing-friendly Norway (Aldersvennlig Norge) offers advice on how Norway can become more ageing-friendly, and their program focuses on five main areas. But their program has gained traction primarily because of the growing impact caused by the rapidly-increasing 65+ demographic. This change means that our society needs to adapt, and provide new solutions. High on the list of what older people want is better health, and better homes (Aldersvennlig, 2020). Hans Christian Sandlie can confirm this.

“Both in Norway and abroad, many organisations are going to be working on adapting their approaches in light of the fact that we face an ageing population, and appropriate housing is going to be a central fixture in an age-friendly society” he explains.

But what do we mean by “better homes”?

According to Sandlie, there are many concerns and preferences that influence home designs that are tailored towards people aged 60+. For starters, many people wish to continue living near their existing neighbourhoods, where they already have a social network.

“Tailored housing, preferably with parking options, access to collective transport and the ability to generally have mobility outside the home have proven to be important. Service functions such as cafés, health services, and grocery stores/corner shops are also mentioned often”, says Sandlie. He also points out that the immediate environment around one’s home is essential for good quality of life. “The lives we live in and around our homes are key. They affect people’s health and wellbeing” Sandlie explains.

His claims are borne out by the “Eldrebølgen” Study. It shows that people over the age of 60 wish to spend more of their time doing the things that interest them – from spending time with friends and family to going on walks, enjoying outdoor activities, exercising, and engaging in their hobbies (Prognosesenteret, 2020). At the same time, in-depth interviews from the same study show that it is important for them to be able to contribute to society, and play an active role (Ibid.).

“We see older people as a homogenous group, and they are not”

Sandlie believes one of the best steps we can take towards become ageing-friendly society is a wider change in attitudes – including how that pertains to creating suitable housing. He believes it is important to bear in mind exactly who tomorrow’s retirees are.

“The truth is that tomorrow’s older people are people like me (in just a few years)! People like me have to start planning housing that accounts for the fact that we are ageing”, he continues with a smile.

Multiple options for housing concepts will be necessary

Sandlie believes that in the future, there will probably be several housing options for older people to choose from that will be relevant to people in different situations.

“We don’t know exactly how the housing situation will be in the future, but my assumption is that there won’t be just one housing offer that is relevant for all, but rather several – and that is about finding niches”, he says.

Older people are willing to move if there is something attractive in their area

The question of whether older people are willing to move was also studied in “Eldrebølgen”. A correct interpretation of this idea (and their findings) is that new, innovative concepts could be attractive to older people in the future (Prognosesenteret, 2020). Prognosesenteret’s in-depth interviews show that living with “a mix of age groups” is something that many older people are interested in, rather than simply living with people from their own age group (Ibid.).

Sandlie discusses the attitudes of 50- to 60-year-olds towards living in a community with communal areas – and we see that sharing areas with other people is possibly an attractive concept for many of them in the future.

“Right now, there are not too many people who say yes to the idea, but what is interesting is just how many say that it could be an option for them in the future. We can interpret this as a signal that there is a form of insecurity around what form this idea will take, but once we launch projects showing what this can be, I don’t believe people will be opposed to it”, he concludes.

Sources (Norwegian):

Gleditsch R.F. (2020, 3. juni). Et historisk skifte: Snart flere eldre enn barn og unge. Statistisk Sentralbyrå (SSB).
Mjøs. I. (2021, 6. januar). Hva skjer med eldrebølgen? Prognosesenteret.

Aldersvennlig Norge. (2021). Dette jobber vi med.