So the challenge of living alone presented to a large and increasing
number of people who live in single-person dwellings (around 30% of all
households) is a new experience and therefore a new stress for us.
What’s more, for the millions of older people living alone this is
far more of a stress. Most would have grown up in a time and a place
where they were familiar with communal living of some sort; many in
families, some in multi-occupancy homes, most with relations living
nearby and continuing to live in their local neighbourhood.
When time for retirement comes there are plenty of options today for
secure and safe living in future … if you can afford them. Unfortunately
not everyone can, and the generation of final salary pension and
mortgage-free home owning retirees is coming to an end.
In their place a generation of relatively poorer and older retirees
is arriving. Today a large and increasing number of those over 40 years
old do not own property, have more mortgage to repay if they do, and
also are much less likely to have a full salary pension or sufficient
private pensions; many have none. For them renting is the norm and in
many cases private renting.
How will they afford their later years and be able to live well?
‘Later-co-living’ as one solution
Co-living makes financial sense. For the individual the simple act of
sharing the costs of owning/renting and running a house enables those
sharing to make savings averaging 46% to 55% (1). Add to this the
advantage of lower unit building costs enjoyed by new build compared to
converted older buildings and the overall savings at a population level
can be much greater.
So we should encourage ‘later-co-living’. Why should young
professionals and millennials have all the fun anyway? But despite much
speculation about how society and individuals will fund later-life why
has co-living (a.k.a. house sharing) not taken off as much as it might?
Barriers to home sharing
Home sharing makes not only financial sense but also provides
companionship, security and longer-term independent living before the
dreaded nursing home. Yet there are barriers to further house sharing.
Firstly, later-life can involve special needs. Either through medical
necessity, frailty or vulnerability, the older one gets the more likely
extra care or residential care makes sense. This form of co-living is
well developed but is not relevant to all and there are many people who
resist taking that route, even in advanced years. There are many more
people who are already experiencing financial difficulty or loneliness
in middle-age, never mind old age. They need to plan ahead as things
will probably only get worse but they too seem hesitant.
There is firstly the question of availability of suitable
accommodation. Even if you do want to share finding a suitable place can
be difficult. People aged 40+ who home share want not only their own
bedroom but also their own bathroom too(2), they want enough communal
space to live comfortably and maybe to entertain a guest from time to
time, and they need sufficient storage space. It needs to feel like a
home not just a room. This combination of rooms and space is not easily
found in most towns and cities.
Much has been written about how technology and new building
techniques will allow us to create new easy living / co-living
properties, so I won’t say too much more about that here, but it is
worth noting that presently many of these properties are aimed at
younger professional and millennials and offer only small rooms, perhaps
more suitable for shorter stays. This will have to change.
Instead, what I’d like to focus on here is the another barrier –
people’s reluctance to share a home with anyone other than a partner,
particularly in later-life. There are a number of reasons for this and
understanding them will hopefully lead to policies and social innovation
to overcome them.
Firstly there is the ambition to own a house. Among those who grew up
in the 70’s, 80’s and to the present day, home ownership and having
‘your own place’ is a big part of feeling you’ve succeeded in life.
Sharing is seen as being for students and is looks down upon.
Added to this, ownership of property has been the easiest way to get
rich for the older generation, resulting in the buy-to-let gold-rush of
recent years. Down-sizing is one funding route for those lucky enough to
have their own home and in many cases is seen as a sort of pension.
Lastly, the rise of individualism in the ‘it’s all about me’ society
has encouraged people to seek out self-expression in their choice of
everything from home furnishings to entertainment. This pulls against
communal living, so finding a way to maintain personal space whilst
sharing the cost of living is key.
Having shelter is a primary human need and motivation, so we should
not be surprised that people want ‘a place’. But attitudes to sharing
will have to change and as a species we will have to get better at
Home sharing incentives
Demographics, added to a deterioration in savings and personal
finances in general, suggest later-life will be longer and less fun for
many people. Left with low-income jobs and relatively small pensions,
there is already evidence that a disproportionate amount of household
income is being spent on rent. When that household is just one it’s even
harder. Individuals will not be able to afford to pay this into
retirement and neither will government.
Something must change. Either political change is needed to provide
redistribution of income to such groups – the direction of travel in
government policy seems away from this at present – or social change is
required so that more people embrace sharing a home, so reducing the
cost of their rent. The latter could be more politically appealing.
Such social innovation needs to accompany design innovation. It will
involve both a concerted effort to build more properties designed for
sharing in later-life, with larger bedsit en suite rooms within shared
living rooms and kitchens, as well as encouraging and incentivising
people to share.
The incentives for more house sharing, especially in later life seem
clear. Government has an incentive to encourage home sharing as it would
provide a useful way to constrain the currently increasing cost of
housing and caring for an ageing population, reducing the burden on
public finances. For example, there is already an incentive through the
Government’s Rent a Room Scheme (opens new window).
House builders have an incentive as it would create a new customer base similar to the younger co-living renter or purchaser.
Middle-aged people who do not own a home or have a large pension and
live alone have the biggest incentive. Making savings averaging 46% to
55% from home sharing would provide them with a viable alternative to
living alone and paying out most of their limited income on rent and
The future will see people join together to enjoy ‘later-co-living’
properties where people age 50+ can live comfortably for a reasonable
rent and over an extended period. Ideally those properties will be built
within local communities, rather than away from the neighbourhoods in
which people have lived most of their lives.
Residents will be among like-minded people as well as have a ‘place’
of their own. They would be living like humans have for many years –