For the Best Cities for Successful Aging, Head North

Wisconsin Budget

If you Google the phrase “best places to retire in the U.S.,” you’ll find dozens of articles and surveys, often recommending places in the Sun Belt. But a new report — measuring 352 metropolitan areas on 84 indicators — fills eight of its top 10 spots from the north.

The Milken Institute report looked at the infrastructure for successful aging — such as health care, housing, transportation, cost of living, crime rate, employment opportunities for older workers, intellectual stimulation and weather. Anusuya Chatterjee, a managing economist at Milken, said successful aging is about more than avoiding snowy winters. “Even very cold cities turned out the be great cities for older adults to age. People have to decide if their cities have the other things that are important.”

America is aging at an unprecedented rate. By 2040, 80 million Americans will be 65 or older, nearly double the number from 2010. The overwhelming majority live in or near urban areas, and the report finds they want to continue to do so. Many are also interested in aging in place and not uprooting themselves.

Aging in Place

Snowy Madison, Wisconsin — a state capital that’s home to a major university — came out on top. The report calls it “a hub of innovation and intellectual stimulation,” with a great health care system, lots of healthy lifestyle choices and plenty of culture and recreation.

Also in the top 10 for larger metro areas: Omaha, Nebraska; Provo-Orem, Utah; Boston-Cambridge, Massachusetts; Salt Lake City; Jackson, Mississippi; Des Moines, Iowa; Toledo, Ohio; Austin-Round Rock, Texas; and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut. Others in the top 20 include some unglamorous places, such as Syracuse, New York, and Cleveland.

Rankings for smaller cities were dominated by places in the Midwest, such as Iowa City, Iowa; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Columbia, Missouri; Bismarck, North Dakota; Rapid City, South Dakota; Ames, Iowa; Rochester, Minnesota; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Fargo, North Dakota.

One common link for the cities on both lists is many are university towns, and they all offer “purposeful aging,” which includes areas with robust economies and a wealth of health care assets. Chatterjee notes that “a flourishing economy makes everybody’s life better, and there’s a better chance that their children and grandchildren will stay nearby, and that’s a big advantage.”

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