Giving Up on Retirement in the Sun Belt

Most people stay close to home in retirement

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It’s fun to dream about retiring in a location where you will never have to shovel snow or defrost your car ever again. But don’t donate your winter coat to charity just yet. Most retirees are never able to pick up and move to the sun belt. In fact, most retirees don’t move at all. And seniors who do relocate tend to stay close to home.

Even before the recession began, only about 7 percent of homeowners age 51 and older traded residences in a given two-year period between 1992 and 2004, according to a recent Center for Retirement Research at Boston College analysis. When retirees did relocate, the large majority migrated less than 20 miles. Most people don’t pack up for traditional retirement-related reasons such as a better climate or better leisure activities, either. The most frequently cited reason for finding a new locale after age 50, mentioned by 28 percent of households, was for family-related reasons such as a change in marital status or to be near children or relatives. Another 22 percent of households downsized for financial reasons into a smaller house or a cheaper neighborhood, while 21 percent of older Americans were able to upgrade to a better home or a nicer location. Retirement was the primary reason for trading places for about 16 percent of older households. Another 5 percent of those over age 50 chose a new residence due to a health problem.

Although retirees show a slight preference for the sun belt over the frost belt, there has been no large scale migration of seniors to warmer climates over the past decade, Boston College found. Here’s a look at the relocation patterns of older homeowners.

Where homeowners over age 50 moved between 1992 and 2004:

  • Northeast: 12 percent moved in, 16 percent moved out
  • Midwest: 23 percent moved in, 24 percent moved out
  • South: 39 percent moved in, 35 percent moved out
  • West: 25 percent moved in, 24 percent moved out
  • (Source: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College)

    The number of older Americans who found a new retirement locale has further declined since 2004. Only 3.7 percent of retirees traded residences between 2007 and 2008, according to the Census Bureau. Most stayed in the same state (3 percent) and even the same county (2.1 percent). Just 224,000 Americans age 65 and older moved to a different state in the past year and 50,000 moved abroad.

    For more information, see:

    • 10 Great Places for Foodies to Retire
    • 8 Tips for an Affordable Retirement Abroad
    • 10 Places to Relive the '60s
    • 10 Best Cities for Job-Seeking Retirees