Most Older Adults Do Not Live in Communities with High Livability Scores

The AARP Public Policy Institute and the Joint Center for Housing Studies released “Which Older Adults Have Access to America’s Most Livable Neighborhoods? An Analysis of AARP’s Livability Index.” The AARP’s Livability Index measures neighborhoods in terms of an array of elements that contribute to community and economic well-being, including housing affordability, neighborhood safety, transit access, environmental quality, and economic opportunities. The report finds that more people over age 50 live in low-livability neighborhoods than in neighborhoods with the highest livability scores. Older adults with incomes less than $30,000 are underrepresented in the neighborhoods scoring the highest on environmental quality, health, civic engagement, and economic opportunity.

AARP defines a “livable neighborhood” as one that is safe and secure, with affordable and appropriate housing and transportation options, and which offers supportive community features and services. The Livability Index provides a composite score for neighborhoods based on 40 metrics across seven categories—housing, neighborhood safety/quality, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. Each category is scored separately, and communities can receive additional points for the presence of 20 policies that improve livability—such as inclusionary zoning, affordable housing trust funds, crime-prevention programs, and transit-oriented development. 

The neighborhoods with the highest livability scores tend to have higher rents and housing values. They also have more diversity of housing types, older housing, and a more equal distribution of owners and renters than the national average. Older adults are slightly overrepresented in neighborhoods with the lowest scores. Neighborhoods where at least half the population is age 55 or older are more likely to have low scores on neighborhood safety, quality, and access to economic opportunities.

Renters are more likely than owners to live in high-livability neighborhoods. While renters make up 31% of the overall population, they make up only 23% of the population in the neighborhoods with the lowest livability scores and 44% in the highest. Renters account for 18% of all older adults ages 50 to 64 in the lowest livability neighborhoods but 35% of older adults in the highest livability neighborhoods. Older adults residing in the most livable neighborhoods are more likely to be housing cost-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

Because livability is multidimensional, the characteristics of high-livability neighborhoods vary. Older renters live in neighborhoods with higher scores for housing and transit options and access to community destinations, compared to homeowners. The high-livability neighborhoods in which homeowners live have slightly higher scores for environmental quality, health, civic engagement, and economic opportunity.

Even within the highest livability neighborhoods, there are differences in the characteristics of neighborhoods occupied by renters of color. On average, high-livability neighborhoods occupied by Black and Hispanic renters have higher housing and transportation scores and lower health and economic opportunity scores, compared to the high-livability neighborhoods occupied by older white renters.

The authors make policy recommendations across all seven categories included in the Livability Index. They recommend local policymakers give older adults more opportunity to age in place by increasing the housing types in a neighborhood, promote accessibility through universal design, and adopt zoning and development policies that encourage greater affordability.

The report can be found at: