Is it possible today to have the kind of community where older
adults can stay in their rural communities, know and help each
other as an extended family, experience a feeling of security,
come together for social activities, and share a common interest
in maintaining their living space?
Older adults in rural communities want to stay in their home communities where their children were raised, land was tilled, lifetime friends remain, and sense of "home" exists. However, housing in rural America remains a concern. Many older adults express a desire to live in their own homes but services are not always available and many homes are not safe or functional for older adults in aging years. Housing for older adults in rural communities remains a dilemma and influences the quality of life of these same older adults. Rural cooperative housing is a housing alternative for older adults and this study provides a foundation and a framework for communities examining this option.
The older adult population has tripled since 1900 and the most rapid increase is predicted to occur between the years 2010 and 2030 when the "baby boomers" reach 65. This suggests that the American population is getting older and the number increasing at a rapid pace. The demand for more and better housing options has surfaced as a major older adult issue. Alarmingly, there is little evidence that adequate senior housing options have increased appropriately.
Improving the living environments of older adults is underway
in some states. However, several gaps in the knowledge and research
on the living environments of older adults remain untouched. Stevens-Long
and Commons (1992) indicated that at the time of the writing of
their book, Adult Life, no correlational
research existed on satisfaction of elderly living in conventional,
condominium, cooperative, or mobile housing. Studies of housing
projects and developed communities suggest that life satisfaction
and social behavior are positively correlated to one's environment.
Research incorporating housing and a physical health variable
have shown contrasting results; positive effects and no evidence
of improvement (Dorfman, Heckert, Hill & Kohout, 1988; Hong
& Duff, 1994; O'Brien, Hassinger & Dershem, 1994). Satisfaction
with home is distinct from, but related to attachment to place;
the way in which lives and environmental features are subjectively
intertwined (Stevens-Long and Commons, 1992). Research is beginning
to identify the variables that relate to home and quality of life.
Purpose and Objectives of the Study
The problem of providing viable, functional housing options contributing to quality living for the older rural adults continues to be an intractable and crucial question. It invites much attention and requires serious consideration for older adults in their aging years, the communities involved in providing living communities for their older adult population, and the political arena committed to the policy making of older adult housing issues. The purpose of this study was to describe the quality of life of older adults living in rural cooperative housing. The following objectives were identified to lend direction and strength to several interests currently being explored:
1. Identify the reasons why older adults choose to move to cooperative housing.
2. Describe the effects living in rural cooperative housing has on older adults.
3. Describe the personal characteristics of older adults living in rural cooperative housing.
4. Determine the quality of life of the HOMESTEAD residents.
The argument in support of the research--the quality of life of
older adults living in rural cooperative housing-- offers many
implications in older adult research. Identifying the variables
that correlate to quality of life helps gerontologists predict
the future social and life temperament of the older adult population.
Will cooperative living facilitate satisfying retirement years
for older adults? When the rural dimension is introduced, will
the issue of where to house rural older adults come into play?
These questions will be concerns older adults, gerontologists,
community developers, and policy makers will need to explore in
integrating rural older adults into local communities, increasing
the quality of life, maintaining social structures, encouraging
independence, and preserving "rurality".
Procedures and Methods
This study used a descriptive qualitative and quantitative research design that examined the quality of life of older adults living in rural cooperative housing. It examined relationships and identified the qualities that existed among a set of variables within a population of older adults. Seven rural older adult cooperative housing units exist in the United States and each belonged to the same cooperative organization-- HOMESTEAD Housing Centers. A list of HOMESTEAD residents was secured from the HOMESTEAD Housing Center, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. The mailing list was comprised of 163 individuals comprising a homogeneous, census population of older adults living in rural older adult cooperative housing. All older adults with a HOMESTEAD residence were included in the study. A 93% response rate (N=151) was obtained after four mailing waves.
Focus group interviews were conducted with residents at HOMESTEAD, St. James and HOMESTEAD, Springfield. All residents at these two sites were invited to participate in focus group interviews: 38 accepted the invitation. Focus group interviews were initiated prior to the sending of the mail questionnaire.
A mail questionnaire was designed and tested for reliability and validity. The instrument was tested for stability by test-retest reliability to determine if the same results were obtained from the same subjects over a period of time. Content validity was assessed by a panel of experts and final instrument reflect revisions.
Three themes were addressed in the questionnaire: housing, quality of life, and personal characteristics. Questions 1-6 requested information about previous housing. Question 7-9 related to whether respondents liked or disliked rural cooperative housing and if they would recommend cooperative housing to other older adults. Questions 10-21 addressed factors that influenced the decision to move to HOMESTEAD housing and these eleven questions were summated to acquire a "Cooperative Value" which was utilized in the data analysis. A "Quality of Life" value was obtained by summating questions 22-30 which surveyed quality of life issues. Questions 31, 32, and 44 were open-ended questions inviting the respondent to express what they liked most, least, or general comments about HOMESTEAD living and their quality of life.
Conjectures for the study were made based on the descriptive statistics
and the compilation of the focus group interview scripts. Pearson
product-moment correlations were calculated to determine the amount
and direction of relationships between selected variables.
Data analysis was summarized by research objective and the major
conclusions are reported in the same format as in Chapter 4.
Objective 1: Identify the reasons why older adults choose to
live in cooperative housing. It was evident that the older
adults were not attracted to these cooperative communities because
they were concerned about their frailty or because they were greatly
dissatisfied with their previous homes. In fact, many of these
HOMESTEAD residents did
not have intolerable housing problems. But a complaint consistently shared throughout the interviews and on the mail questionnaires was the oversized home that was too expensive, time consuming or exhausting to maintain. For once in their lifetime these older adults were free to choose a late-in-life home meeting their personal, social, and psychological needs.
The variable that surfaced as the main influencing factor in selecting cooperative housing was "easier maintained home". This result paralleled the findings in a study by Lawton and Hoover (1981) on community housing choices for older Americans. In addition, but not to the degree, variables "staying in the community"; "help close by"; "handicapped accessible"; "better financial investment"; and, "voice in the operation" all had a major influence in the housing selection process. Other studies addressing housing decisions for the aging population in rural America provided similar results (Rowles, 1983; Coward & Lee, 1985; Stevens-Long & Commons, 1992; Bull, 1993).
Re-occurring themes in the focus group interviews were "quest for an easier life", "home-free maintenance", and "cooperative spirit". Statements that reflected these themes were:
" ... It's comforting to know that my home maintenance is
taken care of. I own my home and I don't have to work so hard
at taking care of it."
" ... You do things cooperatively here and it cost less.
We could not afford to live in a place like this individually;
but, cooperatively we can. There are 16 of us paying for snow
removal, lawn care, electricity, utilities, cable TV, etc. Jointly,
we pay a ridiculous low rate."
The attraction to these smaller size, easier-to-maintain, cost efficient homes allowed the older adults to remain active and independent in their home community. The disengagement and activity aging theories lend support to this conjecture on housing selection for older adults. The disengagement theory proclaimed older adults were happiest and most successful when they acknowledged their declining capabilities and began to prepare for their last stage of life. Whereas, the activity theory assumption was to remain an active, independent player in the latter years of life.
Overwhelming agreement occurred among the HOMESTEAD residents
when a fellow resident exclaimed, "HOMESTEAD is more than
a type of housing; we are building a community. It is a style
of life!" The key to fostering a sense of community is to
provide places where neighboring can occur naturally (Kane &
Monk, 1991). Neighboring at HOMESTEAD occurred where people were
attracted on a regular basis such as mailboxes, community room,
hallway and entrance to the facility.
Objective 2: Describe the effects living in rural cooperative housing has on older adults. The quality of life was assessed for the older adults living at HOMESTEAD.
Several variables showed an effect on the life quality of the cooperative residents: safety, happiness, life satisfaction, friend contact, ease in maintaining home, activities, and independence. The focus group interviews revealed similar responses:
" ... I have lived in this community for many, many years.
I feel comfortable here. It is where my friends are. Your children
can move several times and be so far away, but my friends, they
remain here with me."
" ... We are a sociable group here and many of us have so
much in common. "
" ... My neighbors are my extended family; they take care
of me and look after me."
" ... I am completely satisfied with my life. It's the best living we've ever had. Ever had, and I thought we were comfortable before we lived in here but it's nothing compared to this. No, people say, it's tough to get old; but, at no time in our life have we ever had it any better."
Studies based on existing theories and findings in gerontology support these findings (Havighurst, Neugarten, & Tobin, 1968; Palmore, 1970; Duff & Hong, 1982, 1993). These theories contended that variables such as community context, quantity and/or quality of social interactions are vital to the life satisfaction of older adults.
Older adults in age-segregated settings literally create their own world surrounded by others who value their worth and are more sensitive to the growing old process (Roscow, 1967). The HOMESTEAD communities attended to each other's needs and wants. Health problems came to the attention of neighbors with conversation such as "Grace was feeling tired yesterday; we will need to stop by this afternoon to see if she is okay."
An age-homogenous housing option, similar to HOMESTEAD, allows
older adults the opportunities for friendships with persons having
similar life concerns and backgrounds. However, caution must be
made not to assume all individuals 65 years and older are similar.
Certainly a 65 year resident will have differences in life style
when compared with his 85 year old neighbor.
Objective 3: Describe the personal characteristics of older
adults living in rural cooperative housing. The profile demographics
of the residents of HOMESTEAD are 69% female, 46% married, 43%
with a salary between $20,000 - $39,999 and an education level
of high school or higher (62%). Forty-eight percent lived in their
previous home at least 26 years within 12 miles of HOMESTEAD (83%).
This latter characteristic reinforced the theoretical models on
community attachment. The linear-development model (Kasarda &
Janowitz, 1974) theorized population size and population density
are key variables in community attachment. The systemic model
(Park & Burgess, 1921; Janowitz, 1967) emphasized the length
of residence, position in the social structure, and stage in life
were influencing factors in the community attachment theory.
Objective 4: Determine the quality of life of the HOMESTEAD residents. The quality of life dimension among the HOMESTEAD residents boasted high scores. The mean score was 6.7 with a standard deviation of 2.7. Sixty-eight percent scored a quality of life value between 4.0 and 9.4.
The cooperative dimension, likewise, scored high among the subjects of the study. This dimension measured the variables influencing the decision to select cooperative housing. The mean score of 11.9 and standard deviation of 5.0 indicates that 68% of the respondents scored a cooperative value between 6.9 and 16.9.
The focus group interviews showed strong relationships between
the cooperative living component and the quality of life component
with such statements like:
" ... I think the main reason we moved here was because we
knew sooner or later we were going to lose our spouse. This is
an ideal place to continue to live a pretty normal life."
" ... My story is about like Vivan's. I was out on the farm,
you know and just couldn't handle getting to town in the wintertime
so then I talked to the real estate agent here and he said HOMESTEAD
was going to be built, I signed up for it right away."
" ... We are all growing old together here at HOMESTEAD and
liking it - I thought I would never say that!"
The studies on age-segregated housing lend support to these findings.
Factors such as independence, friendships, services, and safety
often surfaced as high indicators of life satisfaction among the
older adult residents in age-segregated housing (Sherman, 1972;
Lawton & Cohen, 1974; Carp, 1975; Malozemoff, Anderson &
Rosenbaum, 1977; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,
1979; Chellis, Seagle & Seagle, 1982; Golant, 1985; Hinrichsen,
1985). Golant (1982) suggested that retirement communities offered
their occupants a relatively unchanging, ordered, and predictable
setting and life-style. Therefore, the sense of certainty HOMESTEAD
offers may be valued highly, especially in a society perceived
as rapidly changing and sometimes intolerant of its older adult
Future Research Prospects and Potential Implications for Extension Education
Future housing for rural older adults should take into consideration
the needs of the current generation of the "young-old",
"middle-old" and "old-old" adult population.
Housing policy and programs for older adults have tended to get
less attention than income security and health care. There are
a number of reasons to explain this phenomenon. From one perspective,
an adequate income should make it possible for an individual to
select suitable housing or maintain existing housing. From another
perspective, many older adults may and do live with relatives,
so that housing is not an urgent need to be met. The trend is
to improve the quality of life among older adults by addressing
their housing needs through existing communities and neighborhoods
rather than through the experimentation of new housing concepts
(Newcomer, Lawton & Byerts, 1986).
Quality of life for rural older adults does present some implications.
Is it possible to measure a construct so complex? This researcher
thinks yes if we continue to respect its complexity. Although
financial well-being, independence, and good health have repeatedly
shown direct correlations with one's quality of life, other factors
such as adequate housing, social networks and community services
also surface as important (Nelson, 1980; Rubenstein, 1989; Pastalan,
Although gerontologists, community developers, and older adults
sometimes disagree among themselves as to the model living arrangement
for the aging population, they all tend to agree that certain
characteristics for older adult housing are necessary for the
improved quality of living in their home communities: access to
community, medical, and recreational services; safe and secure
environment; privacy; and social interaction. A five mile proximity
of community services deemed most important by older adults choosing
housing alternatives were a church, shopping area, restaurant,
and common area for socializing (Nolan & Nolan, 1996).
Will cooperative housing for the older adult be the wave of the
future in rural America? Probably not. But to many in rural Minnesota
and rural Iowa it is the quality of living they had hoped for
in their aging years. Reasons to move into housing for the older
adult or retirement community often center around concern with
one's ability to continue to cope with the demands of regular
housing or, at the least, a disinterest in spending one's time
in such pursuits (Lawton & Hoover, 1981). The decision to
move is focused on trading off a certain amount of freedom plus
a considerable amount of drain on one's energy and time for a
place that can care for the person at varied levels depending
on the individual's ability, wants and desires; but yet still
maintain control of one's environment. In other words, the cooperative
housing concept attracts individuals or couples because what it
offers to rural communities is not generally available elsewhere.
Safety, security, social interaction, independence, and freedom
from maintenance chores are predominant benefits gained from cooperative
The older adults living in rural cooperatives expressed a feeling
of being pushed away from their previous housing due to the feeling
of danger, worry about being unnoticed if in trouble, social isolation,
pressing housing issues, and environmental demands. In any case,
the choice is being made to go to a housing situation that is
more nurturing; where both the resident and the housing corporation
merge together in the care process of each partner. HOMESTEAD
residents reported a better quality of life (66%) when compared
to their previous home; 94% would recommend HOMESTEAD housing
option; and 98% would move to HOMESTEAD if making the decision
On the flip side, many older persons do not want to be identified
as among the old; nor do they want to be continually surrounded
only by persons of their own age. They associate old age with
a loss of social status, low prestige, low self-esteem, and
incompetence (Roscow, 1967). The following statements suggested
this view from some segments of the local communities surrounding
" ... people think HOMESTEAD is some sort of nursing home."
" ... some people say, those people at HOMESTEAD have too
many cliques and no outside interests."
A question that needs to be addressed but answers are yet to be determined: how long will the cooperative concept be the appropriate choice for its residents? The concept is relatively new and in only the third year of operation at HOMESTEAD. This study revealed that 70% of the HOMESTEAD residents lived previously in a small town or farming community within 12 miles of HOMESTEAD (82%) for at least a period of 26 - 40 years (45%). Findings support the two theoretical models of community attachment: the linear-development model and the systemic model. The linear-development model (Kasarda and Janowitz 1974) indicated population size and population density as key variables in determining community attachment. Whereas, the systemic model (Park & Burgess 1921; Janowitz, 1967) emphasized length of residence, position in the social structure, and stage in the life cycle as important variables in community attachment. A considerable number of studies on older adult satisfaction have focused on the comparison between quality of life and community attachment to city, suburban, or rural areas. More recent studies have documented that community attachment does influence later life decisions and the well-being variables among older persons (Klein, 1993; Hong & Duff, 1994; O'Brien, Hassinger, & Dershem, 1994).
Once one moves into a cooperative housing situation, he or she
may not remain independent or in good health. An issue in an age-specialized
facility is that the general, average level of health and personal
competence declines over time. Therefore, does this housing option
for the older adult allow one then to age in place? The answer
to these concerns are, not surprisingly, "yes and no".
For many older adults, their personal competence levels never
decline below a point that remains in a match with those living
in the same location (Stevens-Long & Commons, 1992). However,
there may become a point in time when an individual can not remain
"in place" depending on the characteristics of the place.
At HOMESTEADS, an assisted-living care is not available. Sooner
or later, it may be necessary to relocate to an environment with
another level of service.
The main objective in the research study is that, yes, there is a positive quality of life among the older adults living in rural cooperative housing. This housing option does satisfy some very important physical, social, and psychological needs for this segment of the older adult population (Figure 3-1).
Whatever forms older adult housing projects take, they share many similar characteristics:
2. The commitment to increase the quality of life among the older adult population should take precedence in seeking answers to housing.
3. Location of housing options remain a major determinant in the housing decision process of many older adults especially in rural communities.
4. A central focus on independent living for the healthy older adult must be maintained, so that services that are provided support rather than undermine that independence.
5. Social interactions continually surface as a major determinant to quality of life among older adults.
In summary, further research needs to be directed to the rural older adult populations. The argument in support of the research - are there correlations between the factors that influence rural older adults to select rural cooperative living and quality of life variables - offers many implications in older adult research. Identifying the variables that correlate to quality of life helps gerontologists predict the future social and life temperament of the older adult population. Will cooperative living facilitate satisfying retirement years for older adults? When the rural dimension is introduced, will the issue of where to house rural older adults come into play? These questions will be concerns older adults, gerontologists, community developers, and policy makers will need to explore in integrating rural older adults to local communities, increasing the quality of life, maintaining social structures, encouraging independence, and preserving "rurality".
" ... We are growing old gracefully with all our friends. What a Life!"
" ... Mom absolutely loved HOMESTEAD and wished she had gone
long before she did rather than staying alone on her farm. It
is a wonderful housing concept. She has recently died; but, I
am comforted to know her last few years of life were so enjoyable!