Who is my neighbour? Chances are, it’s someone like myself: an old person if I’m old, a young person if I’m young. And as new research from the Intergenerational Foundation shows, that’s not a good thing.

The new report from the Intergenerational Foundation has been well summarised in the news. The main finding is how much age-segregation is increasing in the UK, with young people concentrated in urban areas and older people moving out to rural or coastal areas. This is driving the generations apart.

(Increasing age-segregation) is bad for society because it undermines solidarity
between the generations, hinders care of the elderly, exacerbates loneliness and
marginalizes young people. It is also contributing to a general increase in
segregation by age group, social class and ethnicity that is estimated to cost the
UK economy £6 billion each year.

Age-segregation hurts everyone

Three points which struck me particularly were:

  • the extent to which the type and cost of available housing creates segregation. People aren’t necessarily choosing to live solely among people of their own age, but their choices are limited. Bungalows tend to be grouped on estates, for example, rather than dotted around next to semis and detached houses. So an older person needing to downsize has to move away from their local community.
  • the reminder that because older people are more likely to vote, politicians ping-in-the-parkare likely to “focus their attentions on more elderly areas, resulting in the marginalization of youthful ones.” So, in an age-segregated community, funding which benefits one age-group is lost to the others. But in a diverse community, spending on, say, well-kept parks with play areas and table tennis tables, benefits all ages!
  • where old and young don’t mix, they come to see each other as “alien”. We might mix happily with members of our own close family, but be suspicious of “the youth of today” or dismiss “whiny pensioners”. Depressingly, the IF notes that the UK is “the European country where older people had the least positive impression of the young.”

Who is my neighbour? Now you can check!

The report prompted me to check my neighbourhood profile.  I’m fortunate to live in a diverse urban community, yet it is changing. Older people move away from, rather than into, it. Houses are increasingly subdivided and rented out to a younger, transient population. I welcome them, but the neighbourhood needs its anchors as well. People committed to the area long-term, who’ve lived there for years, who do “remember when it was all green fields” (or all car works, in this city of dreaming spires and screaming tyres). Losing older people from the mix is a loss to everyone.

What can we do?

IF recommends housing policy changes which will help and encourage older people to stay in urban communities alongside other age groups. But at an individual level, we can expand our own interactions with other age groups. I do my small bit by running table tennis sessions where children, pensioners and everyone in between mixes together (as well as 55+ sessions which are segregated for – I think – good reasons!).

It’s human nature to feel more comfortable if my neighbour is just like me. But it’s better for everyone if they’re not.

“Integration increases trust, and trust increases a society’s capacity to solve
problems. Without action to promote greater integration, the danger grows that in the face of the many and complex challenges of the future, instead of asking ‘how can we solve this together?’, the people of the UK will ask ‘who can we blame?’” The Social Integration Commission (2014)

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