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Active Adult

What is Active Adult Living?

If retirement begins at 55, independent living is three decades late.

While independent living (IL) is loosely considered the start of the senior living care continuum, experts agree that most people are not entering IL until their 70s at the earliest, according to a new report from Senior Housing News.

One study pushes that figure out even further. In 2013, the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) and housing research firm ProMatura Group found that of 6,858 IL rental customers, only 6% were under the age of 75. Fifty-three percent of these IL customers were in their 80s, with two-thirds of all respondents entering IL after age 85.

“I think what [we’re] talking about now is a new, emerging housing option for people geared toward the 75+,” said Beth Mace, chief economist and director of outreach of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).


The new report, “The New Active Adult Housing,” shows how the so-called “active adult” space is filling the housing gap for consumers between turning 55 and requiring independent living, thus creating a new space that might be called “independent living light.” Here are three aspects of this emerging housing model that traditional senior living providers should know as they attempt to thrive in a 55-plus world.

No one knows what active adult should be called

Active adult. 55-plus. 55 or better. Age-restricted. Age-qualified. Age-targeted. Service-enriched. Non-assisted. Active lifestyle. Lifestyle housing.

There are many names for the space perhaps best known as “active adult” or “55-plus.”

Just don’t call it “senior.”

“Put this on my tombstone: I will never buy something that says ‘This is for seniors,’” said Dan Hutson, chief strategy officer of HumanGood, a nonprofit senior living organization in Pleasanton, California.

Experts share his sentiment. The word “senior” is becoming anathema in housing for people older than 55. Removing that word only adds to the debate over what active adult is and how it differs from independent living. The term “active adult” remains popular in marketing materials and on provider websites, but insiders are trying to steer the industry away from the term.

“One reason [we don’t use ‘active adult’] is that we don’t think it’s clear what it is,” said Elisabeth Borden, principal at Boulder, Colorado-based The Highland Group, Inc. “We have clients who have affordable apartments who call them ‘active adult.’ There are people who sell mobile homes who call them ‘active adult.’ We don’t think it means anything.”


Among the replacement terms, “active lifestyle” is perhaps the most clear, accomplishing what “active adult” does not by placing the emphasis on “lifestyle” and hence declaring the consumer’s key motivation for moving.

“The terms are absolutely critical, because the 55-plus is probably the only legal exclusionary zoning that exists,” Paul Bessler, vice president of strategic market research for Scottsdale-based homebuilder Taylor Morrison, said. “It becomes very important what you call yourself—and ultimately who you attract.”

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