Economic and Social Research Council
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Friends over 50 living together - a rising trend

Living with friends or housemates is a choice that housebuilders and policymakers should make more widely available for the over 50s, according to a new study to be presented at the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Housing schemes offering this alternative approach -where people live independently but in shared communities - can reduce social isolation and allow people freedom as they age.

Andrea Jones from the University of Sussex has led research which demonstrates that schemes such as co-housing benefit people in later life in many ways. They enable members to remain active, continue contributing to community life and socially engaged into later life.

"Housebuilders and housing policy-makers need to wake up to the housing needs of the 'baby boomer' generation especially given the ageing population," says Ms Jones. "Increasing numbers of people post-parenthood are turning to schemes where they can live collaboratively with a community of people they share common values and aspirations with. Making these choices more widely available should be a priority for policymakers so more people can benefit."

Communities owned and managed by householders are gaining in popularity in the UK. The aim of Ms Jones’ research was to analyse the factors that make it possible in older age to live in planned residential schemes such as co-housing projects, housing co-operatives and ecovillages.

The ESRC-funded study Alternative Capital, Friendship and Unspoken Reciprocity: what makes it possible to live in intentional communities into later life is due to published in January. It is based on an analysis of nine communities in the South of England including Sussex and London, where individuals have chosen to live and often work together, in a shared house or on shared land such as cohousing schemes, housing co-operatives and ecovillages - these are known as intentional communities. Interviews were carried out with intentional community residents, who were asked about their housing choices.

Other research in this field identifies that women over 50, in particular, are choosing to live with friends in this way. These schemes are positive places in which to live, although community living is not easy and residents must be tolerant of other people’s ways of doing things, according to the study.
The theme of later life housing is also explored in a separate study to be highlighted during the Festival. Sarah Hillcoat-Nallétamby from Swansea University has found that public services are too focused on encouraging older people to ‘stay put’ and age in homes which are often unsuitable for changing needs, instead of helping them plan ahead.

"Every person’s home is their castle, and many fear the only option for moving elsewhere in later life (if needs be) is a Victorian-style institution," says Dr Hillcoat-Nallétamby from Swansea University's Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research. “It’s partly by encouraging older people to think about their housing options that we’ll stimulate property developers, landlords and local councils to be more creative and proactive in increasing the types of housing available for later life.  
"More resources must be invested in helping the over 50s make informed choices about where and how they want to live in later life. We need to ask what they like and dislike about their current homes, whether they’ve been planning ahead in any way. All these questions get people thinking."

The research features interviews with older people given support in moving from home to an extra-care residence. Her findings are also based on an analysis of data from the 2004 Living in Wales survey covering more than 4,000 individuals aged 50 and above.

Both research studies will be highlighted at events as part of the ESRC's flagship annual Festival of Social Science. Andrea Jones will discuss her findings at an event called Age of Choice? Rethinking Life After 50 in Brighton for the general public. It will provide insights into retirement policies as well as the impact of ageist stereotypes on self-esteem.

Dr Hillcoat-Nallétamby’s research will feature in the event Later Life Housing- Research and Information in Swansea. This is aimed at helping to inform people’s thinking about their current accommodation, where they might like to live as they age and how they might realise their aspirations. The event will be run as a 'drop-by roadshow' for the general public, with researchers and service providers available throughout the day to respond to questions and provide information about housing options for later life.

Further information

Notes for editors

  1. Event: Age of Choice? Rethinking Life After 50
    Organiser: Dr David Lain
    Date: 9 November 2016 18.00-21.30
    Venue: Grand Parade, 58-59 Grand Parade, Brighton Oxford BN2 0JY
    Audience: general public
    More information: Dr Lain 01273 641922
  2. Event: Later Life Housing- Research and Information
    Organiser: Dr Sarah Hillcoat-Nallétamby
    Date: 8 November 2016, 11.00-15.30
    Venue: Swansea Civic Centre Library, Oystermouth Road, Swansea SA1 3SN
    Audience: general public
    More information: Rhian Williams, Programme Manager, Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research
  3. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 5-12 November 2016. With events from some of the country’s leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives- both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 270 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events and a full list of the programme are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on Twitter using #esrcfestival.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  5. Alternative Capital, Friendship and Unspoken Reciprocity: what makes it possible to live in intentional communities into later life is a three year, ESRC-funded project. The official report is due to be published in January. A summary of the report is available at emailed request to


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