Monday, June 9, 2014

The "Boom" in Golden Girls-Style Shared Housing: Where’s the Beef?


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.


As challenges to housing affordability increase and the Baby Boomers age, one might expect the demand for shared housing to increase. In fact, we focused on a variety of shared housing called Cohousing  as an emerging model a few years ago.  However, cohousing and other forms of shared housing often hit few barriers that prevent expected growth.  In some places, local zoning can prevent homes from being designed for sharing and/or prevent several unrelated people from living together in a house.  Any person who is considering a shared housing situation must consider the responsibilities of shared housing – this cohabitation agreement was designed to help address that issue.

These caveats should not distract observers from the fact that shared housing has potential to help with 3 "Cs."  Isolation is a growing problem as people live longer, and it can have health consequences for those who deal with the issue.  Shared housing can add companions that make that issue less problematic.  In some cases, the roommate can help with certain caregiving tasks, and help increase the quality of life.  For a cash-strapped homeowner, taking on a roommate can be a straightforward way to save costs

Many older adults made their homebuying decisions years ago when their families were larger, and those homes may no longer meet their needs.  Shared housing has great potential, but finding a roommate and navigating the challenges can be daunting.  There are some solutions: the National Shared Housing Resource Center can link older adults to resources in their area to help. I have seen this work in my own family - after my grandfather died, my grandmother had a younger housemate for a while that provided companionship and helped with a few tasks around the house.  This arrangement was great for both sides.  This arrangement can certainly help others.

Shared housing may not have exploded yet, but its potential puts it firmly in the list of housing options that can help many older adults.  To paraphrase another 1980s classic, there’s the beef




 Do you know anyone who is in a shared housing situation, or has considered one? Let me know what you think about it as a housing option. You can follow me @DrUrbanPolicy on twitter and facebook, and I'm happy to continue the conversation there or below.
(My thanks to Carlos F for analyzing CPS data every year.)

2 comments:

  1. Your comments provide a great frame for thinking differently about shared housing. In addition to zoning restrictions and the challenges of navigating the matching process, people's perception and lack of awareness about shared housing is a barrier to increased adoption.

    The shared housing model pushes up against societal norms and biases. People view shared housing as a second tier option and equate independence with private housing accommodations.

    Aging and housing experts can frame home-sharing as a relatable concept by telling personal stories (as you did) that emphasize what is gained - continuity of place and the power to select a housemate who fits within a person's lifestyle. Shared housing leaders can improve their messaging by connecting to broader themes that align with people's values and address core concerns.

    Short of a shared housing explosion - an inadequate housing stock, an increase in non-traditional households, a projected shortage of caregivers, and the economic challenges of the middle class are factors that will contribute to the need for more options – not fewer.

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  2. The landscape is changing for shared housing among seniors. The press has picked up on this idea and is quickly spreading the word as another option for those who want to age in place but who want to share the cost of housing and are looking for roommates!

    Golden Girls Network launched in late June 2014, and is making a significant inroad into the community of individuals who aren't ready for assisted living or who don't have the funds to pay for it. Single women, between the ages of 40 and 70 are very interested in this model...I have been living in a Golden Girls Home for six years now!

    Our website offers women (and men) the opportunity to stay in their communities and have companionship! Check us out at goldengirlsnetwork.com.

    Bonnie Moore, President
    Golden Girls Network
    301-875-3739

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