Regional Institute Releases Policy Brief Based on Survey of Erie County's Age 50-Plus Population

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: July 15, 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The vast majority of Erie County's age 50-plus residents would prefer to "age in place" -- with most hoping to remain in their current residence for as long as possible, according to the University at Buffalo Regional Institute's latest Policy Brief, "When I'm 65."

A UB survey of more than 480 Erie County residents ages 50 and older revealed 82 percent would prefer to remain in their current residences for as long as possible, although adults ages 50-64 are more likely to anticipate moving. Also, data from the last census show that 75 percent of the 50-plus population in Western New York that moved between 1995 and 2000 stayed within the region. Property taxes and the region's weather and economy were frequently cited as concerns by those surveyed.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is not a mass exodus of the region's older residents to the Sunbelt. Overwhelmingly, their preference is to remain not only in this region, but in their current homes," said Debra Street, UB professor of sociology and lead researcher on the survey.

"These findings present the region with a tremendous challenge -- and opportunity -- to ensure its older population will be able to age well in Western New York," she continued.

The survey is part of an interdisciplinary research effort at UB to learn more about the perceptions and experiences of the region's midlife and older adults. The "Four Seasons" research effort is being administered by the Regional Institute and includes faculty from law, health, architecture, urban planning and social work.

"With Western New York anticipating rapid growth in its older population, it is essential to base critical policy decisions on objective assessments of the concerns, priorities and needs of this diverse community," said Kathryn A. Foster, institute director, adding that future phases of the Four Seasons effort will examine the broader, binational region.

When asked if they would like to live in the same community five years from now, 68 percent of all respondents said yes, with 73 percent answering the same when the question was narrowed to their neighborhood. The youngest cohort (age 50-64) was less likely, though by just a few percentage points,

to say they planned to remain in place. Nearly 20 percent of midlife adults in the study said they expect to move from their current residence within the next couple of years, perhaps indicative of uncertainties about job-related moves or plans to downsize to smaller homes.

Although factors compelling older adults to move typically vary by age -- for instance, economic opportunities for more active midlife adults or health challenges for frail elders -- the Four Seasons survey found commonalities in the forces tugging at the region's older adults.

For instance, 50 percent of survey respondents, representative of the region's urban, rural and suburban residents, cited concerns about their ability to afford the region's relatively high property taxes. Midlife adults were most likely to have these concerns, with 63 percent of this age group indicating as such compared to 39 percent of those 75 and older. The region's economy was rated poorly by the vast majority of older Western New Yorkers, receiving a "C" or lower grade from 80 percent of those surveyed, while 57 percent provided similar grades to the region's climate. At the same time, 43 percent of respondents gave weather an "A" or "B," citing their appreciation of the region's four season climate. Notably, respondents gave the region good grades for neighborhood safety, access to medical care and support services, which help people maintain their independence as they age.

"Creating elder-friendly communities -- with better mobility options, appropriately designed homes and buildings, and opportunities for community and workforce engagement -- is fast becoming a priority for regions across the U.S. as aging baby boomers foreshadow a surging elder population," said Peter A. Lombardi, an institute policy analyst and author of the policy brief.

In Western New York, UB's IDEA Center is advancing elder-friendly community planning by specializing in barrier-free design concepts that enhance accessibility of the built environment.

"When I'm 65" is the institute's 14th policy brief since it launched the series in August 2006 to inform regional issues with timely, reliable data and analysis. All policy briefs are available online at http://regional-institute.buffalo.edu.

A major research and public policy center of the University at Buffalo, the Regional Institute plays a vital role in addressing key policy and governance issues for regions, with focused analysis of the Buffalo-Niagara region. A unit of the UB Law School, the institute leverages the resources of the university and binational community to pursue a wide range of scholarship, projects and initiatives that frame issues, inform decisions and guide change.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.