Andy Dean Photography
Andy Dean Photography

Turning 55 in America is not for the feint of heart.

Nor, for many, is it a milestone that marks a final 10-year career stretch towards a life of leisure, ease, and freedom from financial challenges. Those who design, develop, and build homes and plan communities for those who are crossing this threshold at a rate of 10,000 per day, continuing to do so over the next decade or so, have their work cut out for them.

Age demographics--particularly when it comes to understanding the brute force of nature America's largest generational cohort can have on consumer trends, economics, markets that include housing's builders and developers, and society as a whole--matter.

They matter especially when those age demographics apply to the Baby Boom, the nation's biggest cohort ever, and a generation that every day re-writes the rules on how marketplaces work, which businesses will grow, which will wither, and where both opportunity and risk lie, today and well into the future.

However you choose to cut it from a psychographics, customer segmentation, or behavioral economics framework, the Baby Boom, in the strictest demographic sense of the term, the cohort born between 1946 and 1964 is in the process of entirely redefining the social and economic and household behavioral template for how people aged 55 to 75 should live, impact society, and look forward to what's next.

New data analysis from the Census Bureau suggests in no uncertain terms that what's next for many of those turning 55 looks a lot like the 10 years that came before. More of the same.

Wall Street Journal staffers Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg explore economic impacts and repercussions of a surge in retiring baby boomers in a piece this morning, entitled "Growth in Retiring Baby Boomers Strains U.S. Welfare Programs."

The take here is that what economists and analysts long suspected was the case is now playing out in full bloom. Adamy and Overberg write:

In 1980, there were 19 U.S. adults age 65 and over for every 100 Americans between 18 and 64, census figures show. That number—called the old-age dependency ratio—barely edged up over the next 30 years, rising to just 21 retiree-aged Americans for every 100 of working age in 2010.

But there has been a rapid shift since then. By 2017, there were 25 Americans 65 and older for every 100 people in their working years, according to new census figures released Thursday that detail age and race for every county. The ratio would climb to 35 retiree-age Americans for every 100 of working age by 2030, according to census projections released earlier this year, and 42 by 2060, though currently unforeseen factors could alter that.

Work, in other words, is increasingly a given in 55+ living for more than an exceptional few. That's borne out in a recent Gallup poll that surveys when Americans say they'll retire.

Overall, 41% of nonretirees in the April 2-11 Gallup poll plan to retire at age 66 or older, by two percentage points the highest in Gallup's trend. In surveys conducted in 2004 and prior, less than 30% wanted to wait until after age 65 to retire, including just 12% in November 1995.

Meanwhile, the percentage wanting to retire before age 60 has dropped by more than half from 27% in 1995 to 12% today.

This impacts mobility.

It impacts the calculus of current property value, given new and growing disincentives to sell and move to "retirement" destination states and locales.

It impacts the implications of universal design and aging-in-place approaches, at the very least to the 55-to-70 year-old customer segment.

It impacts the lengths people will go to to find homes and communities that allow them to stay connected to workplaces, and at the same time preserve or grow financial resources for future retirement and health needs and opportunities.

And it impacts some regions and states more than others:

The new census figures show clusters of rapidly graying counties concentrated in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and across southern and western coastal areas that attract retirees.

The state with highest age-dependency ratio is Florida, where there are 34 retiree-aged people for every 100 of working age, the new census figures show. That ratio has risen more slowly than the rest of the country’s since 2010, as its economy draws young migrants, especially from Puerto Rico. Since 2010, Florida also has added more than 600,000 immigrants, mostly from the Caribbean and Central America.

Strategically, it's an important moment for builders, partly because the housing market and broader economy are sending out mixed signals about the timing and potential trajectory of a cyclical shift--downward--ahead, but almost sure to occur within the next two to four years.

During that time, however, builders, architects, engineers, and planners will need a new paradigm, maybe not this particular one but something profoundly different than options currently available and attainable--one far more tuned to the working older American--for homes and neighborhoods, somewhere on the spectrum between peak income and fixed income.

No time for R&D like the present. Happy Summer!