What do medieval beguines, communal living apartments, the Golden Girls and Suzanne Braun Levine all have in common? They’re all examples of how women can support one another in dealing with the challenges of getting older. There are many things that today’s women can learn from the idea of shared living communities. 

Communal Living is Experiencing a Revival

The concept of “women helping women” has a long history. In the 14th century, widows in Northern Europe formed shared living communities called “beguines,” living in small collectives and working together. This was a daring alternative way of life at the time, since society had no place for unmarried older women – most widows in that era had to choose between becoming a nun, or living in poverty as an outcast.

The idea of older women living together as a kind of adopted family was popularized in the 1980s by “The Golden Girls,” a long-running, critically acclaimed and still-beloved TV sitcom about four older female roommates living together and relying on each other after widowhood and divorce.

More recently, family and relationship experts and writers have started to explore and promote the idea of “deliberate communities” and shared living spaces as a way to save resources and provide better social connections – even if the people living in these shared spaces are not part of a “traditional” nuclear family.

Suzanne Braun Levine, a well-respected writer and a former editor of Ms. Magazine, has written a new book called “You Gotta Have Girlfriends,” which offers new insights into how women over 60 can build a more supportive network around them. In fact, Suzanne and I discussed her passion for women supporting women in a recent interview.

So, what is the lifestyle trend that modern day boomer women are learning from their medieval sisters and modern day feminists?

Will More Single Older Women Turn to Communities?

According to a recent NPR article, older women living alone, like many in the Sixty and Me Community, will face several challenges in the future. Where and how we are going to live in the third act of our lives? Who is going to take care of us if we become ill or need support? The article says that, today, more than 1 in every 3 baby boomers are single, and that more than 50% of these single boomers are women.

Many of today’s boomers might have grown-up children who have moved away, often to other cities or countries, so, there are fewer adult caregivers living close by as we get older. Women living on a pension and depending on state healthcare will struggle if long care medical support is needed. Even though women over 50 are resourceful and strong baby boomer women, we are going to need to be realistic about what life in our 70’s and beyond might be like.

One solution that is gaining in popularity is the “Golden Girls” model. This involves a group of women living together in communities or as flatmates in large homes. Marianne Kilkenny for example, is an expert on the subject of women taking up residence in group living situations. She provides resources for women, including a Guidebook to find the ideal community for your later years.

What is the Future of Communal Living for Older Women?

Bonnie Moore, the founder of the Golden Girls Network, shares her five-bedroom house with three other women in their 60s, and has started offering an online service to help other boomer women set up communal houses like hers. I love how she describes her house as “a little bit like family, a little bit like roommates, a little bit like a sorority house.”

What’s next? Well, maybe city planners or building developers will take this idea (and opportunity) to the next level and build an apartment building or modern style beguine for groups of women to all live together.

We all know that staying healthy and fit is a great way to minimize the risks of becoming dependent and needing support as we get older. However, whether we live in shared housing or not, it’s a good idea to keep investing in social relationships and building communities of people who can help share responsibilities as we get older – and just like the TV “Golden Girls,” share a few laughs along the way.

Would you like to live in a big house with 3 other women or would you prefer to live alone and take your chances if you get ill or need support? Could you imagine yourself living in a communal living situation? Please leave your comments below.

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