Retiring boomers are buying big houses?! Not really…

A misused statistic can spring from a simple mistake. But when the mistake confirms preconceptions or a seems unlikely it can take hold. If it does both, it can become an urban myth.

“Around one third of boomer retirees are upsizing into larger homes” fits the bill. Those boomers! forever self-indulgent and defiant of convention! Is this really happening? No.

A new study by Merrill Lynch and AgeWave surveyed 3,600 adults, a nationally representative sample that included 2,900 who were 50 or older. It found, among other things, that “pre-retirees who expect to downsize when they retire may be surprised to learn that half (49%) of retirees didn’t downsize in their last move. In fact, three in ten upsized into a larger home.” (Another 19% moved to a home of the same size.)

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See the difference? The report cites “retirees … in their last move.” Only retirees who actually moved are included. From there it’s a big jump to “a third of boomer retirees,” as on Tweet declared. Or “Why many retirees are upsizing into larger homes,” as one headline put it.

Census Bureau data for 2009-13 shows that only about 7% of people over 50 move in a given year. It’s not surprising. About 80% are homeowners, many with paid-off mortgages, longtime community ties and family nearby. Among people over 60 who own their homes, fully 45% haven’t moved in at least a decade, according to Census data analyzed through the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS archive.

The study itself carries facts that belie the idea that a third of retirees are upsizing:

— A third of surveyed retirees have no plans to move at all in retirement.

— Households with people over 55 account for just under half (47%) of home renovation spending, and about a third of retiree renovators cited adding an office, upgrading a kitchen or bathroom or “improving curb appeal.”

–Paul Overberg

 

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