Saturday, January 17, 2009

Living space and the baby boomer

BABY boomers as a demographic and cultural phenomenon have been researched extensively, because of their huge impact on post-war economies and spending power. Retirement wants and habits are uniform for middle-class Asian imminent retirees as they are for Western early retirees: customised health care and financial planning; independent housing or community living with their peers; in leisure, cultural and cruise travel preferred; and a fierce devotion to healthier eating and exercise programmes.

The Community Development Ministry’s survey on Singaporean baby boomers, published last week, was skewed more towards establishing attitudes on family relationships and their lifestyle variations, such as housing choices. The most noteworthy finding, which data in previous Housing Board research did not unearth fully, is the tendency of the younger cohort of baby boomers to want to live on their own when they retire and to not expect financial support from family. Planning agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, besides the HDB, may want to follow the assumption that a good number of better-educated older boomers who are nearing retirement would share that preference. The housing implications are significant, meaning planners have less time than they think to adapt to changes in living habits. An observation in the survey which will interest developers and health-care companies is that four in 10 respondents thought living in a retirement village or a nursing home was feasible.

This is new in a societal context. It is a departure from state policy which encourages and plans for family togetherness. But change is inevitable as this generation’s retirees are independent in spirit and of means. They wish to avoid friction with married children, who themselves value privacy. (The obverse is that young marrieds cannot expect their parents to be willing, fulltime unpaid maids to their children).

Retirement communities which are professionally managed - with superior housing and facilities, resident nursing staff and excursions organised - will appear on the scene sooner or later. In older countries, such amenities tend to be built and managed by insurance and health-care companies, because of the synergies. By the time the youngest of Singaporean baby boomers reach retirement (they are in their mid-40s), organised community living may be a feature of Singapore life, parallel with studio-flat living which the HDB has been gearing up for. Compartmentalised living need not be inimical to family cohesiveness, which is a result of mutual respect and considerateness rather than of space sharing.

Source : Straits Times - 17 Jan 2009

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