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Where Do We Go When We Retire? A Broader Look at Retirement Destinations

June 25, 2015
Ben Bolender

Where do you plan to live when you or a loved one reaches the golden years? Do you plan to stay where you are now? Do you plan to move to some place warm and sunny? Our new research from the 2014 population estimates looks at where people age 65 and over are choosing to move.

People moving from place to place are reflected in the measures of migration created every year for the Census Bureau’s population estimates. We use primarily Medicare enrollment and group quarters data to calculate the movement of the population age 65 and over. People move for a variety of reasons. The tendency to migrate is highest for young adults. However, in the ages following retirement (commonly around 65), we see another spike in migration. With the baby boomers being the largest cohort yet to enter these ages, the question of where people move when they retire is becoming increasingly important.

Sumter County, Fla., has been one of the fastest-growing counties in recent years, at least partially because of its planned retirement destination status. Based on our research into older age migration patterns, we see that Sumter attracted just over 11,000 older people from April 1, 2010 (Census Day) to July 1, 2014, from other parts of the U.S. Another county with a strong draw was Maricopa, Ariz., which gained almost 18,000 older people during this same period through migration from other parts of the U.S.

While it is true that these areas do attract the most older-age migrants, they do not reflect the wide variety of places that attract retirement-age people. Examining numeric change tells one story, but it is often useful to look at other measures of change. The picture changes when we group counties by population size and look at percent change in the older population from migration. For example, Sumter County ranks high in this measure, showing an increase of 27.7 percent in the 65-and-older population through just domestic migration from 2010 to 2014. The comparable number for Maricopa County was only 3.9 percent.

For counties with a total population of 50,000 or more in 2014, Sumter leads the list for fastest-growing older population through domestic migration. This was followed by Broomfield, Colo., with a 17.6 percent increase, and Rockwall, Texas (part of the Dallas metro area), with a 16.9 percent increase. Here we see that both midsized mountain towns and suburban areas saw their older populations rise rapidly through migration.

When we look at counties with populations between 20,000 and 50,000, Jasper, S.C., leads the way at 28.1 percent, followed by Kendall, Texas, at 14.9 percent. Many older people choose to move to suburbs and areas adjacent to larger cities. Both of these counties are on the outskirts of larger metropolitan statistical areas.

For counties with fewer than 20,000 people in 2014, looking at percent growth starts to pick up much smaller numeric increases. Stark, Ill., leads the list at 17.3 percent growth, followed by Lake, S.D., at 13.9 percent and Sequatchie, Tenn., at 12.6 percent. These three areas represent different flavors of rural America in their plains, forests, valleys, and fields. Even with the variety of places where you could choose to retire, with the aging of the baby boomers it is likely that when you arrive you will find others who made the same choice.

Ben Bolender, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau

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