Move over, Florida. Choosing where to grow old seems to be an increasingly complex decision, and the Milken Institute, an economic think tank, has given prospective retirees a few more things to think about, with a study released on Tuesday ranking the top U.S. cities for growing old.
In crafting its list of "Best Cities for Successful Aging," the Institute consulted survey results, demographers, and various experts in the aging field in compiling a list of 78 factors that contribute to what it calls "successful aging," or an active and productive old age. These range from cost of living and crime rate to more age-specific criteria such as a city's mean public transport fare. "What I would hope is that [prospective retirees] would look at the various indicators, from health to employment opportunities to education, and think about the factors that are most important to them," said study co-author Ross DeVol.
In addition to the overall rankings, the Institute ranked cities based on their appeal to people in the 65-to-79 demographic and people over 80, respectively, in recognition that "young aging Americans" may prioritize opportunities to continue working, for example.
Readers may be surprised to note that New York City and Washington D.C., two of the most expensive places in the nation to call home, were both ranked highly. "There are trade-offs," DeVol acknowledged. "In some cases there will be financial contraints, but they’re offset in terms of having access to the different amenities." Indeed, he suggests that bearing in mind the entire spectrum of quality-of-life concerns, "cost may not be as important as many people might think."
But perhaps the larger point is that it's not just the post 50s themselves who need to start turning an eye toward the unique concerns of age. In conducting its study, the Institute hopes to "raise awareness of the importance to communities of providing resources to seniors," DeVol said -- and even "create a little sense of competition" among towns and cities in the race to become age-friendly.
Michael Hodin, executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as an advisor to the research team, puts it more strongly: According to him, tapping into the economic potential of people over 50 will be imperative to any city that hopes to stay competitive into the coming decades. "The cities that are age-friendly will be 'the winners,'" he said.
Check out the gallery below for the 10 large and small cities identified by the Milken Institute as the best places to age.
Large Metros: Provo-Orem, Utah
The Provo-Orem metropolitan area ranked first in the study overall among large metropolitan areas. Milken Institute researchers were impressed by Provo-Orem's robust economy (the area boasts low senior poverty rates), the healthy lifestyle residents enjoy (the area has low rates of diabetes and obesity and limited fast-food options), and the area's strong community, with low crime rates and short commutes.
Large Metros: Madison, Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin scored highly in the study for its <a href="http://successfulaging.milkeninstitute.org/bcsa.taf?page=metro&mcode=C3154&pop=large#.UBf9ADFSTiM" target="_hplink">impressive health care and cultural offerings</a> -- not only does the city itself boast the facilities and resources of the University of Wisconsin, but it's a mere 150 miles from Chicago. Researchers saw room for improvement in the area of transportation, as public transportation is expensive and senior transportation options limited.
Large Metros: Omaha-Council Bluffs, Nebraska-Iowa
The Greater Omaha area is "becoming a health-care hub for the surrounding area," according to Milken Institute researchers.
Large Metros: Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Massachusetts-New Hampshire
For many in the Greater Boston area, a walk to work isn't out of the question, and many do, according to the study. The area also offers an abundance of doctors, physical therapists, and other health care service providers nearby.
Large Metros: New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA
While the Institute recognizes the high cost of living in the Greater New York area, its extensive amenities for seniors, such as an excellent public transportation system and two of the country's highest-ranking hospitals, are enough to make growing old in this metropolitan area worth the price.
Large Metros: Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA
Des Moines is noted for its high employment rate and services for seniors to find job opportunities. While the Institute acknowledges that getting around could be troublesome for seniors who no longer drive, the city is ranked highly for its overall short commute times.
Large Metros: Salt Lake City, UT
With a low tax burden and easy access to financial institutions, Salt Lake City is a financially stable city.
Large Metros: Toledo, OH
While the Institute recognizes the lack of employment opportunities in Toledo, this concern is outweighed by the city's high-quality hospitals and affordable cost of living.
Large Metros: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
Although the D.C. area is pricey, seniors living in the area have great opportunities for work, education and volunteer work. Seniors can also get around the area with ease by using the city's transit system, which has the third-highest passenger volume among the metropolitan areas ranked.
Large Metros: Pittsburgh, PA
Part of Pittsburgh's appeal is that the city is relatively inexpensive, according to the study. Seniors can also rest easy knowing the city's crime rate is low.
Small Metros: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls ranked first among small metropolitan areas. The employment rate for seniors in this area is among the highest of all 259 small metropolitan areas studied. Commuters also have a short ride to work.
Small Metros: Iowa City, Iowa
The Milken Institute researchers were impressed by Iowa City's abundance of medical specialists: "Many hospitals have specialized units for geriatric services, hospice, and Alzheimer's patients," they noted. The area also has many orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists, according to the study.
Small Metros: Bismarck, North Dakota
Bismarck is not only economically prosperous, but it has the highest rate of senior volunteers among the small metropolitan areas assessed by the study.
Small Metros: Columbia, Missouri
Numerous Columbia hospitals offer geriatric services, rehabilitation services, and continuing-care facilities, and the city itself has low senior poverty levels.
Small Metros: Rochester, Minnesota
Home of the Mayo clinic, Rochester has extensive medical resources and facilities. The study cited public transportation as an area for improvement.
Small Metros: Gainesville, FL
The University of Florida gives Gainesville a wealth of cultural offerings, not to mention job opportunities for people of all ages.
Small Metros: Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor has "one of the highest rates of annual ridership on public transportation," according to the study. A stalled economy, however, is an area of potential concern for the "young-old" who hope to continue working.
Small Metros: Missoula, MT
Despite the presence of numerous fast-food outlets, Missoula boasts low levels of obesity and diabetes. It also offers museums and other cultural activities.
Small Metros: Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
Offering not one but three local universities, the Durham-Chapel Hill region offers extensive cultural offerings, in addition to quality healthcare.
Small Metros: Rapid City, SD
The state of South Dakota has one of the highest per-capita senior funding rates, and the study cited a particularly long life expectancy in Rapid City, indicative of high quality of life.
Sunny Climes: Santa Fe, New Mexico
<em>Fortune</em> says <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/2.html" target="_hplink">Santa Fe</a> is the top choice for retirees looking for sunny climes because of its extensive cultural offerings and easy access to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Check out Fortune's other top picks for sun worshippers <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/3.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Small Cities: Charleston, S.C.
<em>Fortune</em> says <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/4.html" target="_hplink">Charleston</a> is the top choice for retirees looking for a small city, because of its rich history, gastronomic offerings and sandy beaches, as well as opportunities to take classes at the College of Charleston. Check out its other top picks for retirees who crave culture without the hustle <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/5.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Mountain Towns: Bend, Ore.
<em>Fortune</em> says <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/6.html" target="_hplink">Bend</a> is the top choice for retirees looking for a home in the mountains because of its extensive outdoor offerings, including hiking, biking, kayaking, and golf, as well as its relatively affordable home prices. Check out its other top picks for outdoor enthusiasts <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/7.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Big Cities: New York, N.Y.
<em>Fortune</em> admits <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/8.html" target="_hplink">New York City</a> is a surprising choice for a top retirement destination, but it defends its choice with hard data: there will be over 1.2 million people over the age of 65 living there by 2025, says the magazine. New York is a top choice for city slickers because, well, it's New York: there's no need for a car or even a kitchen, and you can't beat its entertainment options. Check out Fortune's other top cities for retirement <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/9.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Overseas: Cuenca, Ecuador
<em>Fortune</em> says <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/10.html" target="_hplink">Cuenca</a> is a great choice for retirees open to the idea of retiring abroad (it's becoming an increasingly popular option, says the magazine) because of its low cost of living, great weather and modern healthcare. Check out its other top picks for globetrotting retirees <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/retirement/1206/gallery.retirement-guide-best-places.fortune/11.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.