Cars Separate U.S. Retirees from Germans

Mobile Share Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Retired Germans spend more days outdoors than retirees in this country. But when older Americans leave the house, they stay out longer.

What makes the difference? The car. Americans love their automobiles and overwhelmingly rely on them, according to a new study by MIT’s AgeLab. If they’re going grocery shopping, they might as well run their other errands.

Only about half of Germans, on the other hand, say driving is their favorite way to get around. And they venture out more frequently, because they can walk – or bike – to the market, which tends to be closer to home.

As people age and recognize the inevitability of their limitations, they begin to think more carefully about whether they will be able to remain in their homes. To gain insight into this issue, the AgeLab surveyed older Germans and Americans to compare their retirement experiences and satisfaction with their lifestyles – the AgeLab calls it “residential mastery.”

This goal is achievable for seniors everywhere, if they can find a way to continue to live healthily in a particular cultural and social environment. “Americans may reach residential mastery by having access to a car, ride-sharing or taxi services, while Germans may reach residential mastery by having shops and amenities in walking distance,” concluded an article in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

In the survey, retirees in each country were asked what they need and what their neighborhoods provide. Both Germans and Americans put the most value on living close to healthcare facilities and their family and friends, who can provide the day-to-day support they need. They agreed on 12 of 17 aspects of their lifestyles – affordability, places to sit and rest, cultural institutions, green spaces, etc. – as being critical to them.


Retirees everywhere want to feel like they belong. But when people quit working, they also leave behind a community of coworkers. Older Germans might have a head start here, because they tend to stay put longer and are more rooted – the “snowbird” is an American concept. Another thing Germans consider very important is sidewalk quality – and they gave their sidewalks high ratings. U.S. retirees feel personal safety is more important – and they say they feel safer than Germans.

The study also distinguishes between the ways people in the rural United States and in Germany stay active. German retirees outside the cities have better access than Americans to senior centers and exercise facilities.  But older Americans’ health is very similar to Germans’. One explanation may be that Americans, like Germans, walk around their neighborhoods – they just do it for exercise rather than out of necessity.

Our needs and the environment’s ability to supply them “become increasingly important for an aging population that wishes to stay in their communities and age in place,” the study said.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Paul Brustowicz

I have achieved Residential Mastery, almost. Driving, I can be at the doctor, dentist, pharmacy, four grocery stores, box stores, gas station, liquor store, barber, restaurants and church in under 10 minutes. I could walk or bicycle to these places, but S.C. is too bloody hot for me to do that. I prefer the air conditioning in my exercise room at the Y.

And I say almost because my grandchildren are 12 hours of drive time in N.J.


Paul says it best! I/we would love to bike here. 3 wonderful grocery stores within a mile, Ultra wide sidewalks all over for walking and bicycling, Pleasant neighborhoods and a little over a mile to the doctor/dentist.

But we live in South Carolina as well. Today (like yesterday) it is 95 with 105 heat index. I have to laugh and “challenge” the Germans to get groceries via walking or on bike here! I want to see them do the same when they have heavy snow!

We do walk between 6-10 am and after 7 pm. And home before 8:30 because that is when the bugs come out.

Why are we here? Children and grandchildren of course! And we love it! Just have to make accommodations.

Ben Vega

We live in Chandler, AZ and have everything we need within a 3 mile radius from our home. During the summer months we leave 110+ degrees for cooler climate. Our mode of transportation is our air-conditioned car.

Siti Nur Amalia

Yes, though the age is the same…depending on their needs…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *. The Center for Retirement Research does not post all comments and may edit some for clarity or brevity. For more details on our reader comments policy, see here.