Redefining retirement: where today’s seniors are living life to the fullest
The baby boomers are at it again. With a long history of challenging social norms that started in the 1960s, they’re now setting their sights on what the golden years really mean.
Thanks to medical advancements, healthier lifestyles and some serious attitudinal changes, the concept of a “senior citizen” is evolving with a new generation of older adults. The adage, “You’re only as old as you feel,” has never been more fitting, as many confidently proclaim, “70 is the new 50.”
As Memorial Day Weekend approaches, we explore how this generation is staying young at heart. With 3 in 4 older Americans planning to travel this summer, many participating in the latest craze of pickleball, and still, others playing golf, dining out, or even dating, there’s one thing we learned; today’s older adults are still having fun – and plenty of it. And perhaps that’s the key to why they seem so…young.
For American seniors, this social and recreational renaissance is about more than having a good time. The National Library of Medicine found increasing evidence that subjective age – or feeling younger – is an important predictor of beneficial health outcomes. In other words, when we feel younger, we’re actually also healthier.
Meanwhile, the National Institute on Aging reports that engaging in fun, active, and social activities helps seniors live happier and longer, and may even lower the risk of health issues such as dementia, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
It’s great news, then, that seniors are staying busier than ever before in their day-to-day lives: nearly 1 in 4 adults 55 and older participate in formal volunteer work, while 57.2% help out their families, neighbors and communities on an informal basis. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that adults spend more time doing things they enjoy as they age, with adults 75+ spending an average of 7.73 hours per day on leisure and sports – compared with 4.91 hours per day among 20-to-24-year-olds.
While the golden years provide ample free time to pursue hobbies, not all states are created equal when it comes to offering enjoyable experiences for older adults.
How we defined “fun” for state rankings
Seniorly analyzed 11 metrics in all 50 states and D.C. related to sports, weather, social life, restaurants, cost of living, health, happiness, and proximity to airports for family visits. Analysis was used to rank the top destinations for creating a healthy, active and fun-loving lifestyle across the United States. The complete methodology is at the bottom of the study.
- Florida Ranks No. 1: Florida is America’s most fun state for seniors, which is unlikely to surprise those familiar with the Sunshine State’s outdoor recreation opportunities and thriving arts and culture scene. In addition, Florida has a large and healthy elderly population, and relatively few older adults report feeling lonely.
- New England Ranks Well Despite Colder Weather: Four of the top 10 most fun states for seniors are actually in New England: Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire. These states make up for their colder weather and higher costs of living with their strong health outcomes and access to parks, restaurants and other leisure activities.
- Many of the Least Fun States are in the South: According to the metrics we used for evaluation, the least fun states for seniors are largely concentrated in the Southern part of the U.S., though Alaska and Nevada are notable exceptions. Seniors in these states tend to have poorer mental health, less access to parks and fewer recreational opportunities such as restaurants and golf courses.
According to our metrics, Florida ranks as the most fun state for seniors. While it has a slightly higher cost of living than the national average (as reported in our previous study), the year-round warm weather, many beaches, parks and golf courses more than make up for it.
These factors likely contribute to perceived health outcomes, too: 16.5% of older adults in Florida say they are in excellent health, higher than any state except Oregon. Given Florida has an above-average 65+ population and just 7% of older adults say they are lonely, the Sunshine State is effectively a hotbed of social connections for older people.
Perhaps surprising to those not from the midwest, Minnesota took the No. 2 position, driven by its access to golf and the fact that 90.3% of people live within a half-mile of a park. Further, 2022 Google Trends Data Shows Minnesota was one of the states most interested in pickleball, which suggests that the state’s seniors are keen on keeping up with emerging sports and opportunities to stay active.
While Minnesota’s colder temperatures might not appeal to those who prefer warmer weather, the state also has a slightly lower cost of living than the U.S. average, so older adults on a budget may find Minnesota particularly attractive. And whether it’s the cold weather, the cost of living, or a combination of the two, something is working well for older adults in Minnesota, as just 5.9% of Minnesota’s adults 65+ say they experience regular mental distress – well below the average of 8.2% – and 12.9% rate their health as excellent.
The unlikely trio of Montana, Hawaii and Nebraska round out the top five most fun states for seniors, all offering their own unique opportunities for recreation, social connections and healthy aging.
No. 7 Maine also warrants attention: 21.7% of the Pine Tree State’s residents are 65+, the highest share in the country, and with 8 golf courses per 100,000 population, there are more opportunities to golf than almost anywhere else.
See state-by-state data (click map)
Least fun states
On the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky ranks as the least fun state for seniors, due to older adults’ self-reported mental health status as well as a relative dearth of parks, restaurants and bars.
Surprisingly, despite its reputation for being a hotspot for fun in sun, Nevada landed as the second-worst state on our list given its above-average cost of living, higher degree of isolation among seniors, and poor health outcomes.
Also in the bottom five are Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma – where over 12% of seniors say they’re lonely, among the highest ratings for isolation in the study.
Notably, West Virginia came in at No. 46, where just over 1 in 5 residents are 65+, making it the only state with a high share of older residents to land at the bottom of the list. While the least fun states tend to have lower costs of living, older adults are also less likely to be in excellent health and more likely to experience regular mental distress.
The national picture
As people grow older, it’s important to stay engaged in activities that bring joy and excitement to their lives – and that means something different to every person. For example, while states with a lower cost of living can help older adults to enjoy life on a budget, the more expensive states may have more senior-friendly activities available. On average across the states, there are four golf courses and 211 restaurants or bars per 100,000 population.
Meanwhile, about 69% of Americans live within a half-mile of a park, and 12% of older adults, on average, say they are in excellent health. Keep in mind that while warmer states allow older adults to explore the outdoors year-round, some seniors may actually prefer milder climates, given too much sun exposure or overheating can cause its own health problems for the elderly.
Finally, while social connections and a sense of community are important factors in seniors’ quality of life, the most important consideration for many older adults is likely to be proximity to their families. Across the states, 8% of older adults experience frequent mental distress and 10% report feeling lonely in the past two years.
While every person will have different preferences and priorities, the most fun states for older Americans are those that offer a combination of connection to community, a reasonable cost of living, a climate that encourages activity, good health outcomes, easy transportation for family visits and access to recreation opportunities. In addition to having fun, seniors that remain social and active are more likely to be happier and healthier for longer.
We used the most recent data for 11 metrics to determine the most fun states for seniors. We used a Z-score distribution to scale each metric relative to the mean across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and capped outliers at 3. We multiplied some Z-scores by -1, given a higher score was negatively associated with being above the national average. A state’s overall ranking was calculated using its average Z-score across the 11 metrics. Please note that for Overall Health and Mental Health, data used for Florida was from 2020.
Source: News Release