As boomers age, their retirement ambitions are likely to include more than just trading in their winter snow shovels for a fair-weathered community in a low-tax state. That is why the Milken Institute has created its new Best Cities for Successful Aging Index.
Far from a list of Florida cities with cheap, and early, eats, the Milken Institute rankings (which are actually dominated by cold-weather places) take into account a wide number of variables—78 in fact—that point to a community’s health care resources, safety, affordability, comfort, ease of transportation, second-career opportunities, cultural offerings and community connectedness.
The study’s authors—Anusuya Chatterjee, Ross DeVol and Paul Irving—drilled deeply. In the area of heath care, for example, they looked at the number of doctors, hospital beds, dialysis centers and more; the number of hospitals with Alzheimer’s units and hospice centers; hospital expenses per inpatient day; the percentage of hospitals with medical school affiliations; and more than a dozen other factors.
They did the same for wellness indicators, financial indicators, employment and education indicators as well; they did all this for large metro areas and small metro areas, and they did this for two age cohorts—65 to 79 and 80 and older. The result is a multivariate ranking on steroids.
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“This index is a first research of its kind in the United States using public-use data that determine the overall quality of life for seniors,” Milken Institute scholar Anusuya Chatterjee said, commenting on the study for ThinkAdvisor. “Ninety percent of seniors want to age in [the same] place, and this index looks directly at how cities are meeting these needs.”
Chatterjee said the Milken Institute’s Successful Aging data site can be used as a tool for Americans to assess where each metro area stands. “Personal preference is of course the ultimate deciding guide,” she adds.
The big study examined two cohorts: one that included the 100 largest cities and regions and the other 259 smaller metropolitan areas. ThinkAdvisor first looked at the 20 Best Big Cities for Successful Aging. Read on for the 15 Best Small Cities for Successful Aging.
15. Hattiesburg, Miss.
Overall Score: 88.46
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 18; 87.37
Age 80+ Rank and Score: 7; 93.19
TAKEAWAY: Located between Jackson, Miss., and New Orleans, Hattiesburg has many job opportunities in industries likely to hire seniors. The metro has a relatively low cost of living and the lowest crime rate. But it has high rates of obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Since the senior population is small, volunteer rates are low.
14. Dubuque, Iowa
Overall Score: 88.47
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 25; 86.56
Age 80+ Rank and Score: 17; 88.94
TAKEAWAY: The metro’s unique architecture and river location attract many tourists, and it is highly connected to nearby Chicago. It offers quality hospitals and specialized care for seniors. The 65+ population is large, and seniors actively volunteer. Many points of cultural enrichment also make this metro desirable for seniors.
13. Morgantown, W.Va.
Overall Score: 89.05
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 13; 88.87
Age 80+ Rank and Score: 18; 88.74
TAKEAWAY: Home to the University of West Virginia, Morgantown has employment, art and culture, education and access to health care services. Rentals are inexpensive, and homes are moderately priced. However, it ranks toward the bottom in living arrangements due largely to the expense and lack of facilities for the oldest, sickest population.
12. Anchorage, Alaska
Overall Score: 89.68
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 8; 91.02
Age 80+ Rank and Score: 67; 85.11
TAKEAWAY: Anchorage’s older residents enjoy the benefits of senior-friendly employment opportunities and public policies. However, it ranks near the bottom in most of the indicators involving living arrangements, and it goes without saying that the severe weather is a bummer.
11. Ames, Iowa
Overall Score: 90.67
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 6; 91.51
Age 80+ Rank and Score: 10; 91.31
TAKEAWAY: Ames has an educated workforce, low unemployment, a strong fiscal base and the amenities of a university town. Although it has high ridership in public transport, the commute time is long. Housing and rental prices are above the median, and residents need more continuing-care facilities and better-quality hospitals and nursing homes.
10. Rapid City, S.D.
Overall Score: 90.71
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 10; 89.71
Age 80+ Rank and Score: 12; 89.72
TAKEAWAY: Rapid City has a thriving economy with a major health care center that serves the five-state region and an influx of tourism due to nearby Mount Rushmore. However, home health care providers, continuing care facilities and quality nursing homes are in short supply.
9. Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.
Overall Score: 90.74
Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 11; 89.21