Various social, economic and cultural forces have teamed up to dramatically challenge the traditional notion of an empty nest. The recession that began in 2008 sparked record unemployment, large stock market losses, lower home values and increased demand for higher levels of education. Around the same time, advances in health care and life expectancy have made it possible for many adults to live far longer than they used to – although not always in good health, meaning there’s often a need for ongoing care.
But is empty-nest syndrome — that roller-coaster of sadness, loneliness and other emotions that parents may feel when their offspring finally leave home — really as difficult of a life change as it’s cracked up to be? Some research has demonstrated that an empty nest is associated with a range of benefits for the whole family, including improved marital relations, reduced conflict between parents and children and enhanced well-being. Yes, believe it or not, transitions may present challenges, but people get through this adjustment and may even end up thriving.
The traditional stereotype of the empty nest takes on many faces in our changing times. Aging parents and socio-economic conditions that impact our growing young adults (children) have changed drastically in the past decades. Many middle-aged people say it is hard to make any plans for the future because of uncertainties related to their parents’ health and their children’s ability to provide for themselves. The demands of children still forging their way to independence, and aging parents in need of increasing amounts of care can cause change in the way that “empty nesters” determine their immediate and not-too-distant futures. Baby boomers who are approaching retirement are not necessarily thinking smaller when it comes to homes – as in less home to clean, less burdensome debt, and less nest to feel empty once children have grown and moved out. While it may still be true for some of the older home buyers, housing experts say that a significant portion of the aging real estate market are opting to go big, or at least bigger. While historically this demographic started exploring “down-sizing” as a real estate option, many are now maintaining their larger homes and even exploring options that include an in-law suite or separate apartment type addition to a home. Builders are paying attention. The National Association of Home Builders says that buyers over the age of 50 – baby boomers, empty nesters and pre-retirees – are the housing market’s faster growing category. Factor in that people are living longer and caring for aging parents and older children so extended retirement financial planning is changed dramatically. Consider that the greatest population growth right now is in the 80-year-old plus segment of our communities.
Larger homes are not a symptom of the suburban house blow up to just a grander size. It is more of a quest for purposefulness and identity for the space. Boomers and seniors today want productivity and creativity for space. Studies show that many are starting their own small businesses to have control over their finances without worrying about social security or the volatility of their investments in the financial markets. Not only are they looking for utility, they are also interested in creating spaces that will allow them to discover who they are and who they will become next. There is more time to explore the things that they enjoy that they didn’t have time to dedicate to in their busier, working years. Sewing rooms, art studios, gourmet kitchen spaces, his and her offices, libraries and home spas are all the rage when it comes to designing a home that people like to be “home” in. These homes are a creation that has been formulating over years of planning. Adult couples, having made sacrifices and living simply during their child rearing years, wish to retire in comfort. These empty nesters have been waiting patiently for a slower time in their lives with fewer demands and new explorations. In addition to creating bigger spaces, empty nesters are designing spaces that will create a desire to visit – to be a destination location for their children and their grandchildren – spaces that accommodate not only themselves, but guests and family. These homes will often have extra bedrooms, bathrooms and play areas for a grandchild. Often people will choose a different location to move to in order to encourage their children to travel and visit.
All things being considered, maybe the newer trend of the “empty nester” is to create a highly specialized and accommodating place for their family of all generations to come and feel at home.
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