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Top 10 Destination States for Retirees on the Move

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It’s almost a cliché: Retirees in the Northeast or Midwest wake up one winter morning to a below-zero windchill and a foot of wet, heavy snow blanketing the driveway. Add in a power failure, and they reach their breaking point as they shiver under four layers of blankets. “That’s it,” they exclaim in frustration. “We’re moving somewhere warmer.”

The stereotype is at least partly based on reality, according to a recent study by Peter J. Mateyka and Wan He of the U.S. Census Bureau, Domestic Migration of Older Americans: 2015 -2019.

The authors examined migration patterns among Americans aged 65 and older. They found that the “younger old” (ages 65 to 74) may make amenities-focused moves, relocating away from family and friends in search of warmer weather, like the snowbound retirees described above. Others seek housing and neighborhood services that better fit their needs.

The migration pattern can change later in life with the onset of physical decline, however. It can become more difficult for retirees to navigate stairs or maintain their property, for instance. In these cases, the “oldest old” (over age 85) might move again, this time returning to family and friends for social, material and physical support. In many cases, the authors note, these are short-distance moves.

The study highlights several key findings:

  • Older people frequently moved from cold-weather states to warm-weather states or to states that share a geographic border.
  • The South had the largest net migration gain of older people, and the Northeast and Midwest had net losses from migration.
  • Among all states, Florida gained the most older people and New York experienced the largest loss from domestic migration.

Understanding Migration Flows

Long-distance shifts among states’ retiree populations capture the headlines, but the authors note that there are different types of migration. A retiree’s move within one area is referred to as “residential mobility,” or an intracounty move if they stay in the same county. Domestic or internal migration moves stay within the United States; international migration involves moving into and out of the U.S.

The statistics used to track retirees’ moves also have specific definitions. The study defines in-migration as the number of migrants who moved into an area during a given period; out-migration is the number who moved out of an area during a period.

Net migration is the difference between in-migration and out-migration for a given time. A positive net — or net in-migration — indicates that more migrants entered an area than left during the period being measured. A negative net — or net out-migration — means that more migrants left an area than entered it.

Another important statistic is the net domestic migration rate. Total numbers of in- and out-migrants are potentially misleading. For instance, a 50,000 out-migration number would comprise only about 0.13% of California’s population, and no one stuck in traffic on the I-5 would notice their departure. But if that same group left Wyoming, the state’s population would drop by over 8%.

To facilitate comparisons among states with different population sizes, the net migration rate divides net migration by the approximated prior year’s population and multiplies the result by 1,000.

So which states are the relatively most popular destinations for older Americans on the move? Check out the slideshow to see the top 10 states with the highest net migration rates (and no, Florida is not No. 1).

Ed McCarthy is a freelance financial writer who holds the certified financial planner and retirement income certified professional designations.