Provo, Utah Tops Best Cities for Successful Aging List

Places with high well-being ratings surpass the Sun Belt’s retirement meccas.

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Using nearly 80 factual indicators, a new study has evaluated the nation's 359 largest metropolitan areas and ranked them as the best places to age. Cities in the Midwest and Northeast fared well compared to traditional retirement sites in the South and West, researchers at the Milken Institute found.

A small group of senior citizens
A small group of senior citizens

That's in large measure because the study's indicators went far beyond climate and lifestyle amenities to include urban infrastructure, civic amenities, and measures of both physical and mental well-being. College towns in particular stood out as satisfying places for older residents. Such towns offer extensive learning opportunities for older residents and usually feature high-quality healthcare facilities as well.

Beyond understanding how specific places compared, the driving reason for the research was simply to direct more attention to the significance of aging and building successful communities for the nation's rapidly growing senior population. "This is a huge and growing market," says Ross DeVol, Milken's chief research director and co-author of the study, "Best Cities for Successful Aging."

"We're trying to bring attention to the fact that we have a rapidly aging population," he adds. Older consumers bring growing market power due to their rising numbers and continued spending habits. Mayors and city leaders who recognize the value of older residents, he explains, can create a competitive edge for their towns by focusing on successful aging.

Milken identified the nation's 359 largest metro areas and ranked them in two groups: big cities (the top 100) and smaller metros (the next 259). It used 78 indicators broken into eight categories: general conditions, healthcare, wellness, financial, living arrangements, employment and education, transportation, and community engagement.

Milken's online best cities rankings provide details on how metros ranked on each of the 78 indicators. It also allows users to change a city's score on a category and see how this would alter its overall comparative position.

Among the nation's 100 largest metros, the most successful cities for aging were:

1. Provo, Utah

2. Madison, Wis.

3. Omaha

4. Boston

5. New York

6. Des Moines (tie)

7. Salt Lake City (tie)

8. Toledo, Ohio

9. Washington, D.C.

10. Pittsburgh

Among the next 259 smaller metros, the winners were:

1. Sioux Falls, S.D.

2. Iowa City, Iowa

3. Bismarck, N.D.

4. Columbia, Mo.

5. Rochester, Minn.

6. Gainesville, Fla.

7. Ann Arbor, Mich.

8. Missoula, Mont.

9. Durham, N.C.

10. Rapid City, S.D.

In addition to the overall rankings, Milken also calculated separate rankings for young (ages 65 to 79) and older (ages 80 and above) seniors. Young and older seniors have different needs and priorities, DeVol explains. "If you're over 80, for example, you're not so concerned with an area's employment opportunities," he says. "You're more interested in healthcare, a low crime rate ... and perhaps the presence of assisted living facilities."

While the two sets of rankings are usually similar, there were some sharp differences. New Orleans, for example, was the 10th most successful large metro area for aging among older seniors but only 42nd for seniors ages 65 to 79. Its overall rank was 34th.

Twitter: @PhilMoeller