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Study: Retirement Villages – Separate Spaces for Older People?


Australian researchers have found links between ageism and the construction of residential complexes for older adults.

Maree Petersen and Jeni Warburton examined the residential complexes comprising retirement villas and care facilities sprouting up across southeast Queensland, Australia.

The researchers drew on data from published documents and interviews with both developers for the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. They also interviewed architects, government policy makers, town planners and consultants.

The study appeared online in the journal Ageing & Society (Feb. 7, 2011).

Among their results:

  • Retirement complexes are numerous today on the urban fringe of Queensland’s main cities. Professionals win political support for the developments by touting them as a solution to the crisis of an aging population, despite older people’s overwhelming preference to live at home in the community.

  • The ads targeting retirement villages use models younger than the average age of residents (which is 72 years at entry). The brochures tout upscale problem-free lifestyles that mask the aging process and exclude frail older people.
  • Construction of home-like facilities is hampered by requirements for efficient layouts and stereotypes of older people common among building professionals. As one architect noted, "You know it is more like designing a hospital or a surveillance place or not someone’s home and I am now looking at it as a marriage of the two and that is purely what it is."
  • Within residential complexes, it has become increasingly common to separate the retirement village from the nursing care facilities. "People staying in the retirement part don’t want to know what lies ahead of them," one town planner explained.
  • Retirement complexes are big business in Australia. And the promotion of large-scale developments is critical to the survival of a large number of businesses, not-for profit organizations and regional consultancies.
  • Most significantly, the dominance of residential developments means little attention is given to other housing options for older adults. This, despite growing calls for community for all ages.

Housing and ageism

With the growth of retirement villages set to double over the next two decades, the researchers note, "The industry practice of separating older people geographically has consequences for how society perceives older people, how they live and how they are viewed by society."