One of the few truly fun things about contemplating retirement is dreaming about where you might want to live. Before the tough financial, family, and lifestyle decisions must be made, we can spend at least some time musing about dream homes and locales. These decisions will be made in the future, of course. So what better rose-colored guide could there be than a set of rankings geared to predict the best places to live in the United States in 20 years?
Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, followed this logic in rating different regions of the country using a series of 13 measures of personal well-being that are based on extensive national polling efforts. They reflect, to a large degree, how people in the area feel about themselves and their communities. The Well-Being Index is a partnership between the Gallup polling organization and Healthways, a wellness services firm based in Tennessee, south of Nashville.
Dividing the nation into nine regions, Gallup-Healthways looked at the regional performance of all 13 measures (which received equal weights), handing out the lowest numbers for best performance. It found that Horace Greeley's 19th century frontier advice still holds: Go West, young man. States in the upper Midwest and West clearly outperformed other regions as the best places to live in the year 2032. Here are the ranking details:
1. West North Central: Average rank 3.3 (includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota)
2. Mountain: 3.5 (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming)
3. Pacific: 3.6 (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington)
4. West South Central: 4.8 (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas)
5. New England: 5.0 (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont)
6. South Atlantic: 5.5 (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia)
7. East North Central: 5.6 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin)
8. Middle Atlantic: 5.8 (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania)
9. East South Central: 7.2 (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee)
For the past several years, more than 1,000 people have been polled nearly every day by Gallup-Healthways on a range of lifestyle and wellness topics. This large and growing set of public opinion data amounts to a solid monitor of what Americans think is really important about the ways they live, and the varying quality of life as they see it from different parts of the country.
The 13 measures used as the basis for the rankings:
Healthy worker-boss relationship
Standard of living
Optimism about their hometown's future
Safe places to exercise
Optimism about their personal future
Priorities change in response to events, Witters says, so the things people think are important today may carry different weights in the future. For example, economic measures were represented heavily among the 13 measures. Fifteen or 20 years from now, they may be seen as less important, assuming the economy eventually resumes its longer-term growth pattern.
"The most critical element of any community's future livability might be a culture of successful entrepreneurship," Witters wrote in a commentary on the rankings. "Successful entrepreneurs consistently demonstrate a willingness to take risks, but they also have the resolve to start and manage a business."
"Above all, entrepreneurs create jobs," he added. "The relationships among an entrepreneurial culture, job creation, and wellbeing have never been clearer."