NBC, Touchstone Television and their partners should be proud– it has been 22 years since the final episode aired, yet the influence of The Golden Girls means that every year reporters ask about the boom in “Golden Girls Housing.” This form of shared housing receives a great amount of attention, but we'll miss the big picture if we look for big numbers.
For the last few years, I have looked at data from the Current Population Survey (analyzed by the AARP Public Policy Institute) to count households that are all female (or all male) with at least one non-related housemate or roommate, no spouses, and no one under 50 in the home. This is the classic “Golden Girls” formula.
The result has become familiar: a very small portion of the population lives in a “golden” situation, around one percent. The small numbers of people in those situations means that it’s hard to figure out whether it has become more popular. Though the percentage appears to be holding steady, the number of golden households has grown due to population growth – we estimate that in 2000 there were about 780,000 persons in golden households and by 2013 that had grown to 1 million. (There are over 104 million persons age 50 or older.) It’s entirely possible that people are seeing more of these households as time marches on, but it’s not quite a “boom” yet.
The focus on the rise of golden households may be misplaced – the question may not be about the number of people currently in these households, but the potential of shared housing to meet the housing needs of a growing group of people. Shared housing is one of the range of options that can help people address the fact that their homes and communities may not work well for them as they age.