These white walls: The dialectic of retirement communities

Kevin McHugh, Elizabeth M. Larson-Keagy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


In 1960, Del Webb launched a grand social experiment: the nation's first large-scale 'active adult' community, Sun City, Arizona. Forty-four years hence, it is instructive to take stock of Sun City and its progeny. This paper excavates the social and cultural significance of age-restricted retirement communities, drawing on the voices of Sun City residents. Three tropes are revealed in interviews with Sun Citians about community and community life: birds of a feather, idyllic havens, and fortress mentality. Retirement communities display a striking dialectic, as they are places rich in meaning and collective identity in aging and, simultaneously, places of separation that speak to the potency of age, social class, and ethnicity as social borders. Retirement enclaves served as forerunners in the proliferation of master-planned, lifestyle communities that engender both resident well-being and social fragmentation in metropolitan America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-256
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2005


  • Ageism
  • Cultural meaning
  • Identity
  • Retirement communities
  • Social separation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


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