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Retirement living in America: How 60 U.S. cities stack up

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For aging boomers, locales with pristine beaches and year-long balmy weather might seem fine places to ride out their golden years.

Turns out, however, that sun and sand are not good indicators of post-retirement quality of life. For evidence of this, look no further than a new report from Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement. The study, “America’s Best Cities for a Healthy (and More Affordable) Retirement” flags Seattle —best known for its frequent precipitation and generally overcast weather — as the top-ranked U.S. for healthy retirement living.

Conducted in April 2015 by the independent research firm Sperling’s Best Places, the study ranks the 60 largest U.S. metropolitan areas on all factors of health and affordability for middle-income retirees. The data includes eight categories judged by the report’s authors as key to health of an area and its residents: healthcare, the economy and affordability, social, wellness, activities, environment, transportation and crime. Each category was statistically weighted to reflect the needs of the retired population.

In addition to Seattle, the report ranks these cities among the top 5 for healthy retirement living:

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul

  • Denver

  • Portland (Oregon) and

  • Hartford

Cities that topped the list had above-average scores for wellness and access to healthcare and some of the highest scores for overall life satisfaction, and social and emotional support. These metro areas also boast natural beauty and a wealth of outdoor and cultural activities.

“This study identifies and recognizes cities that provide the services and support that people need to live healthy, happy lives,” says Scott Goldberg, president of Bankers Life. “[M]any healthy places to retire can come with a reasonable cost-of-living price tag that is realistic and attainable for a great number of retirees.”

The categories

  • The Healthcare category: Healthy retirees depend on widespread availability of physicians specializing in geriatric issues, such as cardiology and oncology. This category examines the number of physicians and hospitals per capita, hospital ratings based on patient reviews and the affordability of home healthcare.

  • Economy and Affordability: To determine an area’s affordability for middle-income retirees, the study explores three metrics: cost-of-living index, median housing price and median rental price. (Cost-of-living index takes into account a city’s costs for housing, transportation, utilities, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services.) Cities that ranked in the top 15 percent most expensive for those three metrics were disqualified from consideration for the final overall list. These cities still appear in the rankings for individual categories.

  • Social: Thriving social health depends on factors ranging from the existence of a sizeable peer group to sufficient emotional support. This category considers the percentage of baby boomers (ages 51 to 69), their social and emotional well-being and satisfaction with life and the number of four-year colleges, libraries and civic and volunteer opportunities in the area.

  • Wellness: Separate from healthcare, the wellness category focuses on the actual physical health of an area’s residents, in particular issues of importance to retirees: life expectancy; smoking, obesity and depression rates; and mortality from cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Activities: Recreational opportunities are a major component of retirees’ physical, mental and social health. To determine a location’s score in this category, the report looks at physical activities such as golf and tennis, 5Ks and marathons, gym membership and hiking and walking trails. Also considered: the availability of cultural activities like farmers markets and community gardens, museums, symphonies and operas, theater and dance, and zoos and aquariums.

  • Environment: In ranking the metro areas in terms of the environment, Bankers Life considered, among other factors, the number of sunny days per year and the summer heat index, local air and water quality, the presence and accessibility of bodies of water and the number of local and state parks.

  • Transportation: Getting around can be burdensome for retirees with health challenges, such as limited or reduced mobility. To rank cities in this category, the study looked at the accessibility of an area’s public transportation system and the percentage of commuters who use mass transit.

  • Crime: The healthiest cities in terms of crime were ranked the safest metropolitan areas in the nation because they had the lowest rates of property and violent crimes.

The rankings and scores

For the individual category scores, higher is better. For each category, each city in the study received a score out of 100 based on its relation to the other cities’ scores in that data category. The highest possible score for each category is 100; the lowest possible score was 0. However, for the overall rankings, lower is better.

  1. The categories are weighted on a scale of 1 to 15. Categories that have a more significant impact on overall health are more heavily weighted in determining a city’s total score and ranking. 

  2. Healthcare and Economy & Affordability both received the highest weighting of 15.

  3. Social—13; Wellness—12; Activities—11; and Environment—9 are moderately weighted.

  4. Tranportation—5; and Crime—4 are lowest weighted.

  5. To arrive at an overall city score, category scores are multiplied by their category weighting. These weighted categtory scores are then added together. For example:

Category weighting:

15

15

13

12

11

9

5

4

 

Healthcare

Economy

Social

Wellness

Activities

Environment

Transportation

Crime

Category scores

60

60

70

80

85

45

65

80

Overall Score Formula:

(60*15)+(60*15)+(70*13)+(80*12)+(85*11)+(45*9)+(65*5)+(80*4)

Overall Score:

5655

See rankings for the top 60 metros in alphabetical order beginning on the next page. (Click charts to enlarge.)