Retirees in Big Houses Shouldn’t Throw Small Parties

mcmansionI recently read a review of the book The Economic Naturalist, in which the Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank asks his students to pose real-world economics questions and then supplies the answers in 500 words or less.

Not normally one to steal lines from movies, my first thought was, “you had me at 500 words or less.” But the reviewer went on to cite some of the representative questions and the first example was, why do people buy bigger houses when they retire and their children are gone?

Damn, I thought. That is not only a very good question but it’s one that has taunted me for years, and no, the answer is not because they can.

So why do retirees buy such big houses when it’s just the two of them? My guess has always been that with all the dependents gone, the empty nesters want a big, in-your-face trophy home to prove to their friends that even after being almost bankrupted by college tuitions, they still have enough money to live in 4,500 square feet of splendor. The other possibility is that with a ten-room house, you can avoid your spouse most of the day and just meet up for dinner. My final preposterous theory was that a 4 bedroom house will have better resale potential than a two-bedroom(but that theory is not looking so good now that oil is close to $1,000 a barrel).

The real answer? The student’s conjecture is that a large house in the vicinity of a retiree’s grown children means that they might be able to lure the grandchildren over more often. The student further surmises that with so many divorces and remarriages, some kids have as many as six or more grandparents, so the competition for these grandchildren visits has gotten more intense. A large, well equipped home (swimming pool, pool table, media room, video games, skeet shooting range, bowling alley, etc.) may be just the tiATM keypadcket if you want the grandkids hanging out at your place all the time.

Now that we have that burning question out of the way, do you want to know why the keypad buttons on drive-up ATMs have Braille dots on them? Assuming the drivers are not blind, and that may not be the best assumption to make these days, there is a logical reason. But to find out what it is, you have to go read the book and see that these whipper-snappers are already beginning to think they know everything.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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