A challenge looms ahead for the United States: its rapidly growing senior population. Some states are far better positioned than others to meet the challenge.
Every year, HelpAge International evaluates the social and economic well-being of the elderly in its Global AgeWatch Index. The United States came in eighth place last year, one of the better countries for growing old.
24/7 Wall St. conducted an independent analysis that incorporated a range of income, health, labor, and environmental indicators. We found that Utah is the best state in which to grow old, while Mississippi is the worst.
Yahoo Homes is publishing the five best states for growing old below. To see the rest of the top 10, visit 247WallSt.com:
To determine the best and worst states in which to grow old, 24/7 Wall St. compiled data from a variety of sources and grouped them into four broad categories: income, health, labor, and environment and access.
To be considered among the best states for growing old, a state's senior citizens had to have relatively strong income security, as measured by several indicators. While the national median income among families with a head of household 65 and older was $37,847 in 2013, comparable incomes in eight of the best states to grow old, for example, exceeded $40,000 in 2013. A typical elderly household in Hawaii (one of the top five states overall) led the nation in 2013 with a median income of $55,650.
Social Security income, which averages $1,294 a month nationally, is generally not enough to sustain seniors. Many of them therefore rely on other income, such as withdrawals from 401Ks and savings — but nationally, less than half of Americans 65 and older had such supplemental incomes.
In four of the best states for growing old, more than half of aging residents had supplemental incomes.
Health care — both services and outcomes — was another factor we considered. In the best states, life expectancy was relatively high: at least 80 years in eight out of the top 10 states.
A good education, which can lead to employment opportunities and higher incomes, is also an indication of well-being. While less than one-quarter of Americans 65 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, at least 28% of seniors in seven of the best states had attained such a level of education. More than 34% of Colorado’s elderly population were college-educated as of 2013, the highest rate nationwide.
As older people tend to be more vulnerable to criminals, the best states to grow old also needed to be relatively safe. In all of the 10 states, the violent crime in 2013 was less than 300 incidents per 100,000 people, all among the lower rates reviewed.
A majority of the best states for growing old have also passed policies that shape seniors' quality of life.
Methodology details: To construct our index we used the min-max normalization method. A similar methodology was used in constructing HelpAge International’s Global AgeWatch Index and the United Nation’s Human Development Index. First, all indicators were modified so that higher values indicated better outcomes. For example, rather than use the percentage of the population with a disability, our index used the percentage of people 65 and over without a disability. Second, each indicator was normalized to fall between 0 and 1 using the indicator’s minimum and maximum values. Third, we calculated the geometric mean of the indicators in each category to obtain an index of each category. Geometric means were used to account for relationships between indicators that may be causal. Our final index was calculated as a geometric mean of the category-specific indices.
Where the data points come from: Included in the income category are data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) regarding the 65 and older population with retirement income, poverty rates, and median household income. The health category includes data from the Census Bureau on the percent of people 65 and over with a disability. Also included are data on the percentage of seniors insecure about food from Feeding America’s 2013 report, Spotlight on Senior Hunger. We also included 2011 life expectancy at birth from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the OECD’s health index, and a survey question from Gallup on whether people have a personal doctor. The labor category incorporates data from the Census on the share of people 65 and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher, as well as employment rates for people aged 55-64 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The environment and access category includes data from the OECD on how accessible a variety of services are in each state. From Gallup, we considered how safe people feel walking alone at night and how satisfied people are with the places they live. Finally, we included data on violent crime rates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
These are the best states for growing old.
Median household income (65+): $44,440 (5th highest)
Percentage with a disability (65+): 33.9% (9th lowest)
Percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 28.0% (12th highest)
Violent crime rate: 187.9 per 100,000 residents (3rd lowest)
Older Virginians have far better income security than most elderly Americans. While less than 48% of Americans 65 and older had retirement income to supplement Social Security benefits in 2013, more than 54% of elderly Virginians had such an income, the fifth highest rate nationwide. State households with at least one elderly member had a median income of $44,440 in 2013, also among the highest incomes in the age group reviewed. As a result, Virginians are much less likely to live in poverty and suffer from food insecurity late in life. Less than 4% of Virginia’s elderly population had inadequate access to nutritious and affordable food, the lowest percentage nationwide, and just 7.4% lived in poverty, versus the comparable national figure of nearly 10%.
Median household income (65+): $35,844 (20th lowest)
Percentage with a disability (65+): 34.2% (13th lowest)
Percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 32.7% (2nd highest)
Violent crime rate: 114.9 per 100,000 residents (the lowest)
Senior citizens living in Vermont were especially well-educated, which likely helped improve their quality of life. While less than one-quarter of Americans 65 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree, nearly one-third of elderly Vermonters were college educated, the second highest rate nationwide. Unlike in many of the best states to grow old, older Vermont residents did not have especially strong income security. The median income among older households was less than $36,000 in 2013, one of the lower rates. However, less than 5% had inadequate access to food, the fourth lowest rate in the country. Vermont also had the lowest violent crime rate in the nation in 2013, with fewer than 115 crimes reported per 100,000 residents. Safety is especially important for older people, as they are often targeted by criminals.
Median household income (65+): $55,650 (the highest)
Percentage with a disability (65+): 35.6% (25th lowest)
Percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 26.0% (17th highest)
Violent crime rate: 245.3 per 100,000 residents (13th lowest)
With the state’s 65 and older population accounting for nearly 16% of the overall population in 2013 — one of the higher proportions — Hawaii is a popular destination for older Americans. Older Hawaiians benefit from an exceptionally strong state health care system. Hawaii was the first state to introduce a near-universal health care system, passing legislation in 1976, which seems to have paid off. Hawaii led the nation in health on a recent OECD survey, and state residents were expected to live 81.3 years in 2011, the highest life expectancy at birth nationwide. Hawaii’s elderly population also had strong income security, with a median income for older households of nearly $57,000, the highest such figure nationwide. The relatively high incomes likely helped seniors in the state afford Hawaii’s exceptionally high cost of living.
2. New Hampshire
Median household income (65+): $42,406 (11th highest)
Percentage with a disability (65+): 34.6% (16th lowest)
Percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 28.6% (10th highest)
Violent crime rate: 199.6 per 100,000 residents (6th lowest)
Relatively few senior citizens live in poverty in the best states for older residents. Only 5.6% of New Hampshire’s elderly population lived below the poverty line in 2013, the lowest rate of any state except for Alaska. Low poverty rates and high median household incomes among residents 65 and over may allow them better access to safe and nutritious food. As of 2011, roughly 5% of New Hampshire’s senior population did not have access to healthy foods, lower than the vast majority of states. Perhaps as a result, life expectancy at birth as of 2011 was one of the highest in the country at 80.3 years. The state was also one of the safest in the country, according to both an OECD report and FBI data, which likely makes it more attractive to older people who may be more vulnerable targets of crimes.
Median household income (65+): $44,384 (6th highest)
Percentage with a disability (65+): 36.0% (24th highest)
Percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 30.9% (3rd highest)
Violent crime rate: 209.2 per 100,000 residents (8th lowest)
Although the share of its elderly population is nearly the lowest in the country, Utah is nonetheless the best state in the nation in which to grow old. The state fared exceedingly well in all the measures reviewed. Older residents are well-educated, with nearly 31% having attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, the third highest figure in the country. Seniors also have relatively strong income security, due in part to a strong education and traditionally high employment rates among the 55-64 age group. Nearly 97% of Utah residents in that age group were employed in 2013, nearly the highest rate. Utah’s elderly households also had a median income of more than $44,000 in 2013, higher than in all but a handful of states. These factors likely helped improve the overall satisfaction — not just among the elderly but all residents. More than 91% of residents told Gallup they were satisfied with their city in 2013, the second-highest such rate reviewed.