The Poison Pill of 55-Plus Communities

The Poison Pill of 55-Plus Communities

Age-restricted living worsens the empathy divide.

I’ve been watching the antics of a professor of marketing at New York University (NYU) named Scott Galloway, who has written a book about how the older generation has failed in its social contract with young people. Although he tends to swear a lot—and sometimes comes across as a jerk—he’s not wrong.

In chart after chart, Galloway can show you how people hitting their retirement years have left a scorched earth economy behind them. They had better wages, more affordable housing, and more reasonable options for parenthood than their adult kids do now. All of the data lines are going the wrong direction.

“The cost of buying a home, the cost of pursuing education continues to skyrocket,” Galloway says. “So the purchasing power, the prosperity, is inversely correlated to age. Simply put, as we get older, we’re taking away opportunity and prosperity from our youngest.”

The result is “rage and shame,” he says. “People over age 55 feel pretty good about America, but less than 1 in 5 people under age 34 feel very good about America.”

His comments came to mind as I drove past The Villages, Florida’s fantastically popular age-restricted community. Here’s a physical manifestation of Galloway’s thesis: Grandma and Grandpa (or Mom and Dad), are getting a new house here, living it up all the way to the bitter end. Meanwhile, their kids and grandchildren struggle to pay rent. Many decide not to have kids.

The perceived message from their elders? “Have fun dealing with the climate crisis we created, kids! Oh, and thanks for paying for our Social Security payments (even though we hate the New Deal) for the rest of your low-paid working life. Don’t bother with grandchildren. The Home Owners Association (HOA)—our neighbors and friends—only allows short family visits here anyway.”

The Villages is just one of thousands of age-restricted communities nationwide. It’s part of a national frenzy for 55-plus living . The Villages, in fact, is the fastest-growing U.S. metro area, at about 7.5 percent annually. That’s why I’m risking elder scorn by calling it out. I can take it. I’m past 55, too.

Thanks to a 1995 regulatory loophole, developers were allowed to build these exclusive camps for gramps with special quotas for aging buyers. The rule made sense when applied to people with modest means. But now some 55-plus homes fall into the luxury end of housing prices.

That was not the plan. 


On the right is a breakdown of the U.S. population, from the latest Census, compared with “The Villages,” at left, the nation’s fastest-growing metro.

It’s not just young people who may be getting a raw deal from this white flight to 55-plus living. These cultural expats are paying a price, whether they know it or not. Research suggests they may be damaging their own mental health by avoiding contact with the young. They’re also fueling ageism by losing empathy and connection with other generations. What a sad way to golf cart off into the sunset.

I brought this topic up to lead off our “World Changing Ideas” issue to keep things real. Not every innovation is technological. Often, real change is rooted in a shift in our worldview. 

Populating the country with elder echo chambers instead of multi-generational neighborhoods is a fool’s paradise. It’s time to remove the restrictions and invite all generations to these communities.