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Retirement: How will it evolve in the 21st century?

From today’s perspective, especially as it relates to how Americans age and how we plan for our last decades of life, the early 1900’s seem like eons ago rather than just 100 years. Here are some startling facts:

  • In 1890, 73% of men 65 years or older still worked. Compare that to the year 2000 when a mere 17.5% worked.
  • Life expectancy? In 1900 an individual could plan on living for 47 years; in 2010 that number grew by three decades, to 77 years.
  • Social Security was introduced to Americans in 1935.
  • By 1950, 25% of American workers had a pension; that grew to 45% in 1960.
  • 401K’s came on the scene in 1978.


All of the above factors combined to create the possibility of a truly gratifying retirement where one no longer needed to work. Nest eggs were built through IRAs and 401K’s and augmented with Social Security and pensions (although the popularity of pensions as an employment benefit have recently been replaced by employer-funded 401K’s or IRAs.)

In the early part of the 1900s, older adults typically lived at home or with their children. But later in the century, there was a need for and a gradual growth in living options for retirees.  If caring for older family members became too difficult, or if no family existed, there were nursing home options.

However, nursing homes or “homes for the aged” were viewed as negative or institutional and characterized by multiple residents living in one room and a general lack of privacy. Hence the sometimes-insurmountable prejudice older adults have against the idea of living in a retirement community, even as they have developed into the furthest thing from “your grandfather’s nursing home.”

Today, older adults can plan for a life that is a far cry from what was available 50 years ago. Plus, older adults are a huge demographic – 56 million individuals living in the United States are 65 years or older, comprising nearly 17% of the population – and they exert tremendous influence in nearly every aspect of life.

Retirement living today offers not only new, upscale communities that seek to engage the mind, body and spirit of each resident but to also live their very best life in retirement. Most offer amenities like fitness and spa rooms; multiple, on-site dining venues as well as concierge services. Many include learning and travel opportunities as well as ways to explore one’s interests and passions whether that be an artists’ studio, or music and theater performances.  Sounds like life at Beacon Hill, doesn’t it?

In an article entitled “Senior Living Trends 2022: What to Expect in the Future,” Holly Schade, RN-BC, MBA and Paul Reinbold, MD discuss the “smart lifestyle,” which includes accessible and user-friendly technology, including these:

  • Technology that helps with detecting falls and recognizing a need for urgent response and remote assistance
  • Sensors and microprocessors in appliances and furniture that collect data and recognize risk patterns
  • Integrated wearables that track vital statistics
  • Physicians’ offices using technology to receive up-to-the-minute health information about their patients who live at home


Other living trends considered by older adults include grandparenting. In the last decade there was more than a 30% increase in grandparents taking on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren. In a recent article Kathy Griffel, director of healthcare sales for Mannington Commercial says that “multi-family housing communities where all the residents benefit from shared amenities and services . . . can be a way to share the positives and the tougher parts of {grandparents’ raising grandchildren}.”

Griffel also points to the number of millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) who either never moved out of their family home, or moved back in. 40 million of them, she says, have taken on the role of the family caregiver. Some of that increase, “is due to the declining number of professional senior caregivers. Millennials are caring for seniors to help make up the deficit.”

There is also a sizeable number of older adults who are choosing to rent instead of purchasing a home and they sometimes choose rather unusual forms of “renting.” Some opt for Airbnb homes so that they can live in different parts of the United States. Others take cruises to see the world without having to own or do the upkeep on a permanent home.

No matter one’s situation or finances, growing older in this the third decade of the 21st century and living in the United States, holds many attractive options that can make for an enjoyable and fulfilling retirement.

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Beacon Hill at Eastgate is a distinctive, not-for-profit retirement community located in Grand Rapids’ desirable Eastgate neighborhood.

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