December 15, 2014 — Most “best places to retire” lists are highly subjective and based on somebody’s personal opinions. Some others use a certain set of criteria, such as crime, climate, health care availability, etc. Another example is the annual “100 Best” lists at Topretirements, which are based on popularity – the city reviews on our site that were read most.
But there is at least “Best Places” list that truly is almost completely objective and data driven – the “Best Cities for Successful Aging” from the Milken Institute. Although you might not like all of its choices (in fact the reader comments to our 2012 version of Best Cities generated more than a few “you’ve got to be kidding” remarks), it is so fact based that it is hard to criticize objectively. The Milken Institute, which developed the list, is a West Coast think tank dedicated to the idea of encouraging cities to champion a new model of healthy, productive, and purposeful aging for their residents. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP, and the Transamerica Institute provided support and ideas for the project.
The Milken Institute came up with 2 different lists for its Best Cities for Successful Aging Index – Best Large Metros and Best Small Metros. There are 100 “best” metros on each list, and additional facts about each top 20 list. There are separate lists for people 65-79 and 80+, since there needs are different.
To develop the highest ranked cities Anusuya Chatterjee and Jaque King, the authors of the study at Milken, sorted the Metros on 8 major criteria below. Their goal was to identify the places where the living is easy for people 65+. Note that climate is not one of the considerations:
Each of the eight sub-components is comprised of multiple individual indicators — 84 individual indicators in all (the 2012 report used 78). The Institute’s overall objective was to recognize and help seniors be safe, affordable, happy, healthy, financially secure, respected and fulfilled, and have access to the living arrangements, mobility, and transportation that suit their needs. They even go so far as to encourage mayors of U.S. cities to sign a pledge of their commitment to make their cities work for older residents (such as housing options, health care, safe streets, transportation, etc.), and provide opportunities for them to work in volunteer and paid positions, along with training. Finally, the Milliken report provides a review of some of the leading initiatives that are helping retirees live happy and productive lives.
1. Not so many in the Sun Belt. Many of the “best” choices are towns in states that many people will not want to live in, e.g.; Iowa, Massachusetts. These metros might be great on all these 86 indicators, but they flunk the weather and location test. Others are undoubtedly very nice, like New York and Honolulu, but are very expensive.
2. Data driven. We applaud the Milken Institute for their data-driven approach to finding a great place to retire and age. Unlike most “best” lists, this one is not subjective. They are also a non-profit, so sales of magazines and ad space is not driving the list.
3. Categories of aging. One of the very nice aspects of the Milken study is that it differentiates aging into categories – early aging (65-), and older (80+). We like that because our priorities change as we age, particularly when it comes to transportation, healthcare, and activities. We have excerpted the early aging rankings in this article, since that reflects our audience better.
4. Each attribute is ranked by city. The best news here is that you can customize your own list – because the ranks and scores for each attribute are included. So if, in an extreme example, you are concerned about soda consumption under the “health care” attribute, you can weed out towns where sweet tooths are too acute.
5. These lists are important. We fully expect that many of our members will quickly dismiss these lists on the basis of high taxes, cold weather, or other reasons. Being close to family is a good reason to choose a place. But we urge you to use this list as as stimulus to think a little more deeply. Our opinion is that too many of us retire thinking that we are never going to age. Whatever age we have in our head as our self-image, it won’t change. But that is not realistic. Thinking ahead to the future might not be pleasant, but it is smart to consider. Availability of medical care, public transportation, employment possibilities, convenient shopping, appropriate housing, recreation – our needs and use of all of these factors is going to change over time. So the best plan is to try to find a place to retire that can meet those needs for the long term. Low taxes and a warm climate are nice, but they are not everything if you can’t get your most basic needs satisfied.
The Milken Rankings
The Institute ranked the top 100 metros for both small and large cities. Here are the top 10 in each (overall), with a few notes from the report about each one. See their full report for all of the top 100, along with more detailed notes.
Top 10 Large Metros for people aged 65-79:
Five of the top 10 best metros for young aging are in what we would consider the Sun Belt (Utah(2), Hawaii, Mississippi, and Texas).
1. Madison, WI. Plus: Great health care, education, culture, recreation. Minus: Pricey housing.
2. Provo-Orem, UT. Plus: Healthy lifestyle, public safety. Minus: Cost of housing.
3. Omaha/Council Bluffs, NE/IA. Plus: Work opportunities, convenient living. Minus: Safety risks and unhealthy behavior.
4. Boston, MA. Plus: Health, culture, transportation. Minus: Cost of living, “big city blues”.
5. Salt Lake City, UT. Plus: Healthy economy, health care, healthy lifestyles. Minus: Housing for 65+, public transport.
6. Honolulu, HI. Plus: Favorable economy, healthy lifestyle. Minus: Pricey.
7. Des Moines, IA. Plus: Available health care, cultural opportunities. Minus: Lack of medical specialties for older folks.
8. Jackson, MS. Plus: Availability of health care, easy living. Minus: Quality of health care.
9. Austin-Round Rock, TX. Plus: Robust economy, a happy place. Minus: Health care infrastructure for older residents.
10. New York, NY. Plus: Transportation, culture, easy access, health care. Minus: High cost of living.
Top 10 small metros for people 65-79:
One obvious drawback of this list is that 9 out of the 10 cities are in cold parts of the country like Iowa, South Dakota. Although the ice fishing is generally good, winter golf and boating are tough in these places. Midland, Tex was the only Sunbelt winner.
1. Iowa City, IA. Plus: Outstanding health care system, healthy lifestyles, high public transport ridership. Minus: High tax structure
2. Sioux Falls, SD. Plus: Good health care, community involvement, robust economy. Minus: Low public transport ridership, home health care
3. Columbia, MO. Plus: Abundance of health care professionals, University of Missouri, expanding and strong economy. Minus: Community engagement, income disparity.
4. Bismark, ND. Plus: Booming economy unemployment is 2%, quality and efficient healthcare. Minus: Housing shortage, low public transport ridership, seniors have access issues.
5. Ithaca, NY. Plus: Plenty of fitness centers, low obesity, low unemployment. Minus: High costs, and low volunteerism.
6. Ames, IA. Plus: Highest public transport ridership, strong economy and learning environment, very safe. Minus: Home health care options.
7. Cheyenne, WY. Plus: Strengthening economy. Minus: Unhealthy behaviors, lack of services.
8. Rapid City, SD. Robust economy and low 65+ unemployment, recreation, culture. Minus: Long distances for shopping, too much fast food.
9. Midland, TX. Plus: Strong employment for 65+, good healthcare, affordable lifestyle. Minus: Too few transport options, health care.
10. Ann Arbor, MI. Plus: Good health care and smart lifestyles, good use of transport. Minus: Sticker shock on housing, income inequality.
What do you think? Has the Milken Institute developed a list that works for you? Or are some our your top priorities neglected. Let us all know in the Comment section below.
For further reading:
Our report on the 2012 Milken Report