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10 best American cities for growing older

Courtesy of Milken Institute via Forbes.com

Sioux Falls, S.D., ranks No. 1 among smaller cities for those growing older.

The Milken Institute just released its study on Best Cities for Successful Aging, and there are some enlightening and telling surprises on their list. For example, many of the biggest, most cultured, most exciting cities on both coasts rank lower than a number of fly-over cities often assumed to be boring backwaters.

So what did Milken’s researchers and data crunchers look at that made this ranking system different? They weighed in 78 factors considered to “most affect seniors’ quality of life” including economic and job conditions, housing, transportation and social engagement, in addition to the more usual crime rates, health care and weather. Cultural and educational offerings were also an important factor, demonstrated by the fact that the majority of both the large and small cities listed have a university or college.

Here, then are Milken’s top choices, with a few pithy details to back up their rankings. 

Top 5 large metro areas in which to age happily and healthily

For this category, Milken looked at the 100 largest cities in the country by population and ranked them according to the same data and formula. The top 5 were:

1. Provo-Orem, Utah

  • A healthy, pro-business economy means lots of jobs for those over 65, including in small businesses
  • Ranks extremely high in health and wellness
  • Brigham Young University
  • Safety, security and community engagement for aging in place without isolation
  • Low cost of living

Downsides: A bit bland, and then there’s the religion thing.

2. Madison, Wis.

  • Ranked first in the country for healthcare
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Just 150 miles from Chicago’s theater, shopping, dining and nightlife
  • Intellectual’s paradise (lots of lectures)

Downside: Weather.

3. Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb./Iowa

  • Extremely robust economy with plenty of job and entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Headquarters of 5 Fortune 500 companies
  • Wide variety of affordable living arrangements
  • Health care and conference hub with all the resulting attractions and amenities

Downside: Well, they are in Nebraska and Iowa.

4. Boston

  • More than 100 universities within the city and surrounding area with all the expected cultural offerings
  • Top choice for history buffs
  • Easily accessible by public transportation

Downside: Climate, crime and cost of housing.

5. New York/Northern New Jersey

  • Has two of the top 20 hospitals in the U.S.
  • Excellent public transportation, important once you give up driving
  • Cultural offerings go without saying

Downsides: High cost, lack of business/employment for seniors.

Runners-Up ranked 6-10: Des Moines, Iowa; Salt Lake City, Utah; Toledo, Ohio; Washington-Arlington-Alexandria DC-Va.-Md.-W.V.; Pittsburgh, Penn.

Top 5 small metro areas in which to age happily and healthily

For this category, Milken looked at the 259 next largest cities in the country (after the top 100) by population and ranked them according to the same data and formula. The top 5 were:

1. Sioux Falls, S.D.

  • Booming economy
  • Low unemployment
  • Rapidly growing financial services sector
  • Hospitals are strong on geriatric services
  • Strong “community engagement” with plenty of senior services

Downside: Not a strong draw for visitors, thanks to climate and invisibility.

2. Iowa City, Iowa

  • University of Iowa with its lectures, events and cultural offerings
  • Top quality health care thanks to University of Iowa Medical School
  • Excellent public transportation
  • High standard of living; relatively few seniors below the poverty line
  • Scored No. 1 for residents over 80 (partly because no driving needed)

Downside: The population skews younger, so seniors have to work harder to find contemporaries.

3. Bismarck, N.D.

  • Thanks to the oil and gas boom, the economy’s roaring and jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities abound
  • Ranked fourth overall for health care, despite lack of high-profile medical center or teaching hospital
  • Large service sector offers plenty of service jobs 

Downsides: Weather, for sure. Also availability of attractive housing arrangements.

4. Columbia, Mo.

  • Strong tax base provides excellent community services
  • University-sponsored research facilities offer interesting employment prospects
  • Ranked third in health care
  • Strong community engagement

Downside: Short on recreation and culture.

5. Rochester, Minn.

  • With the Mayo Clinic located here, health care quality is high
  • Safe and secure
  • Low cost of housing

Downsides: Sluggish economy and bitter winters – unless you’re big on ice fishing.

Runners-up ranked 6-10: Gainesville, Fla.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Missoula, Mont.; Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.

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