No Progeny Necessary – The Boon of Boomer Communities

            In our book, Enough of Us, we devote a chapter to “Caring for an Aging Population,” in which we refer to the “crisis of momentous proportion – how to meet the needs of a large and expanding population that can expect years of illness and disability.”

            The group we refer to, of course, is the baby boomers. Will there be a sufficient number of caregivers for these seniors? Knowing full well that having children does not guarantee that the elderly will be cared for, we made clear that those over 65 “will need to conduct their own research in order to decide which resources will work as they age.”

Charles Durett

Charles Durett.. Photo – Wikipedia

             Some pioneering seniors, both with and without offspring, have become captains of their own ships. Groups of these enterprising older adults have organized and reside in communities that go under the designation of senior cohousing.  The idea was imported into the United States by Charles Durrett.   Several such communities are established in California as well as in Virginia, Colorado and Massachusetts.  Durrett is an architect and the author of Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living. In a 2005 interview, he made the point that the focus of most retirement planning is on financial well-being. He was adamant that few seniors “anticipate the many requirements for emotional well-being … Few have fully gripped the implications of their children being grown and often geographically scattered.”   

Beacon Hill Village

Beacon Hill Village

           One viable solution emerged in 2001 with the founding of Beacon Hill Village (BHV) in Boston by a group of seniors who wanted to help each other to thrive in their neighborhood as long as possible. Such senior communities have been springing up since 2005. Many go by the generic moniker “village.” Villages comprise a good example of the options that have opened up for people between ages 50 and 90. A 2012 organizational survey conducted by four colleges, including the Rutgers School of Social Work and the University of California, Berkeley, School of Social Work, analyzes this type of community.

          Now they are independent non-profit organizations supported by member dues as well as outside donations. Members age in place and connect in many ways with the broader community through the Village to Village Network (VtV). Since Beacon Hill was established, more than 85 similar programs have opened in the United States, and about 120 more are in the development process.

            These communities offer a smorgasbord of services provided by both resident volunteers and volunteers who live outside the communities: home maintenance, home health care, housekeeping, exercise groups, legal assistance, financial services, home-delivered meals, health education and mental health counseling. About two-thirds of villages offer reduced membership rates for those in financial need.

            Then there are the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities or NORCsa program of the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA).  This model helps seniors age in place through the promotion of “healthy aging, independence and community building through a multifaceted approach,” which includes social services, health education, socialization and recreation.  Between 2002 and 2008, JFNA helped its Federations get federal demonstration grants for “45 communities in 26 states.”

            It’s pretty clear that many seniors, half of whom live alone (in villages), have not been sitting around waiting for their children to take care of them.  Many have taken the initiative to maintain their independence in remarkably positive and creative ways. Some have never had children, yet still thrive. They are living proof that bearing offspring to take care of older generations is not necessarily the best option. Peer-helping-peer in community has proven to be a viable, if not superior, alternative. Those who are thinking twice about making children can consider scratching “children will be my caregivers when I reach old age,” off their list.         



  1. I heard of these villages before (there is one or two in my country) and I think it’s a terrific idea and if I get to old age I’d love to live in a place like this. My mother did not enjoy looking after her mother and vowed never to do the same to me. I believed her until she moved to my house after my father died, while still perfectly healthy and fit (even now, a decade later). My health however, suffered somewhat. I chose not to have children but failed to realize that I also had a choice with regards to an elderly parent. Elderly parents are worse than children because they sulk and throw tantrums and you cannot scold them and educate them as you would with a child.
    A child does not ask to be born and certainly not fair to be brought into the world with the purpose of looking after parents in old age . A parent can and should prepare for old age and not expect their children to be a source of entertainment and subject the child to abuse when they don’t get their way (I’m generalizing here and I understand not every parent is like this, thankfully). OK, maybe I digress a little, but this to say that instead of governments promoting the idea that people need to breed more, they should promote independent and healthy living until later years (happier people are generally healthier people and less of a burden on National Health services). Maybe even go as far as to say “plan or risk being on your own” type of thing, as I’m sure that many will not take this seriously. I’m in my 30’s and everyone I know will certainly have to work well past retirement age because if we can barely support ourselves now (lower wages, higher cost of living, long periods of unemployment) we’ll hardly be able to retire at the age our parents have. Therefore looking after an elderly parent may not just be a matter of not wanting to but also not being able to. I

  2. Childfree Woman says:

    Interesting post. Thanks. I had never intended to live in one of those places but the fact there would be fewer children in them makes them more appealing. I have had relatives in more than one type of place. I’d love to design one as I think I see kinks in some of them I could fix. And I will want a small animal friendly one with certain breeds NOT allowed regardless.

Speak Your Mind