The Villages Is a Boomer’s Utopia—And Demographic Time Bomb
When you consider how the baby boom has affected America, it’s impossible not to contemplate its natural conclusion.
There was a sudden, unexpected surge in births—and within a decade, diaper services went from a novelty to the equivalent in 2021 dollars of a nearly half‑billion‑dollar industry. Cities rushed to build more schools. Then a bit later America had millions of teenagers, so businesses and industries reorganized around them.
Over and over, age‑dependent systems struggled to accommodate the encroaching boomers. To use a boom‑appropriate analogy, America has been a nation of Lucille Balls scrambling to handle the conveyor belt of chocolates. And now, more than 75 years into the boom, you might be able to predict which systems will be overrun.
Harold Schwartz made just such a prediction back in the early 1980s.
Schwartz had been selling tracts of Florida real estate by mail until the practice was banned in 1968. After a brief foray into mobile‑home parks, Schwartz brought in his son Gary Morse, an advertising executive from Chicago, to overhaul the sales strategy. Morse shifted the focus to houses, including offering prospective retirees a half‑hour “video tape tour” of the concept by mail. The pitch went from shoddy to showbiz.
The eventual result was the Villages, a series of interconnected housing developments—the “villages” themselves—marketed as an all‑inclusive lifestyle that redirected retirement from senior community centers to senior‑ centered communities. Year after year over the past decade, the Villages landed among the fastest growing regions in the United States. In 2010, the Census Bureau estimated that about 86,000 people lived in the area. By 2020, the population neared 130,000. More than 7 in 10 of those residents are aged 55 or over, the largely inflexible minimum age required to own a home in one of the villages. Most of the Villages is contained within Sumter County, where, in 2003, 21.3 percent of its population were baby boomers. In 2019, 42.8 percent were, the third‑highest percentage of any county in the United States. The Villages grew so fast that, in the past two censuses, it helped Florida’s center of population stop moving toward Miami and start moving back toward Sumter County.
When I visited the Villages in May 2021, a board listing new residents, broken out by state, had dozens of names. Those were the people who had moved in in less than a week. Ryan Erisman, a writer focused on Florida’s retirement communities, estimated that 2,000 homes are sold in the Villages a year. Other estimates have that figure in a matter of months.
The developments, often distinguished with vaguely elegant or Spanish‑ish names, line two major thoroughfares. The homes themselves are generally small ranch houses that differ little from one to the next. It’s simple to get lost within or between the developments because of the similarity from one street to the next and because everything’s shifted off‑kilter by dozens of golf courses.
The villages serve the Villages like a congregation singing in a church: a lot of shaky individual performances that fuses into something with a bit more energy and appeal. People come not for the homes but the amenities— and for the community within and between the developments.
There’s an insistence to that community; the Villages cannot be an easy place for an introvert. The ubiquitous golf carts often have the names of the passengers emblazoned in script on their hoods, man in the driver’s seat, woman on the passenger side: Dennis and Sally; John and Beth. Signs outside of houses often offer the same information. There’s no excuse for not knowing your neighbor in the Villages.