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Where Seniors are Moving: Migration Patterns Among Baby Boomers and Other Seniors and What It Means for Planning and Economic Development


Where Seniors are Moving: Migration Patterns Among Baby Boomers and Other Seniors and What It Means for Planning and Economic Development


Baby Boomers are a demographic force that holds sway over politics, economics, and city planning. Americans over the age of 55 are a hot topic in planning circles, and their future location decisions are the focus of much debate and speculation. Many big cities are anticipating seniors will downsize their homes, moving to more urban locales where walking, transit, and culture replace big lawns, automobiles and long work commutes.  Elsewhere, retirement meccas are banking on age-restricted housing or other senior-focused amenities as a lure for people 55 and up looking for active living environments. Everywhere, economic development agencies recognize seniors as a group with disposable income and an interest in high quality health care (which itself creates better paying jobs), and are hoping to lure seniors away from other states as a way to improve their community’s economic well-being. These are all great theories, and ones with a great deal of developer money behind them. But a key question arises:

Are seniors moving? And if so, where?

To help answer that question, we turned to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which has data on migration by county. What we found suggests that big cities and communities with a senior-friendly quality of life are indeed attracting seniors, but not in the quantities these areas are hoping for and expecting. If this trend persists, it will have far-reaching impacts on planning and economic development.



This phenomenon has been true for as long as the ACS has kept records:

Years % Population 55+ % Movers 55+ Ratio of Movers 55+
2005-07 23.4% 9.7% 41.52%
2006-08 23.8% 9.8% 41.22%
2007-09 24.1% 9.8% 40.64%
2008-10 24.8% 10.0% 40.55%
2009-11 25.3% 10.3% 40.75%
2010-12 25.8% 10.9% 42.04%

The percent of movers aged 55 and up has increased, but only in relation to total senior population increases. The proportion of seniors moving relative to the total senior population is essentially unchanged. It seems, therefore, that moving out is a young person’s game, and this could put a crimp in many plans.

While fewer seniors are moving than may have been expected, the locations to which they are moving are unsurprising. The map below shows the total number of people 55 and older who moved to a new county between 2010 and 2012.


The areas in red are the places that had the most in-migration among people 55 and over. For the most part, they are major population centers, with Florida, California, Texas, the Midwest and the Northeast Corridor all highlighted. In this respect, the assumption that seniors would move to big cities seems to have been a good one. But the map makes some telling changes when you dissect the dataset further.

The ACS migration data can be broken into interstate and intrastate migration (i.e. moving to a new state vs moving within the same state). Further, the dataset provides interstate and intrastate migration by age group, allowing for an analysis of relative migration. The relative migration patterns may offer more clues to why seniors are moving, and also offer some pessimism about the role big cities are playing in senior migration.


The areas of the map in red are those with the highest proportion of seniors moving there from out of state. Florida, Arizona, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the Upper Midwest are all major attractors for seniors, as are pockets of Texas, Missouri, and the Carolinas. But the big cities of the Midwest, Northeast, and South are not. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta, and Miami are capturing a much smaller proportion of seniors moving from out of state than total senior migration suggests, portending trouble for Baby Boomer lifestyle housing pushes in those cities. And still, barely 10% of counties have senior migration rates of 25% or more, despite seniors comprising 25% of the population. As a result, there are a few “winners” throughout the country and a large number of counties that will see very little impact from senior in-migration from other states.

Interestingly, the map changes in subtle but important ways when looking instead at people who moved within their home state.


It seems that seniors moving within their own state are limiting themselves to an even smaller portion of the country, with the coastlines attracting the largest proportion of in-state senior movers. Areas like Phoenix, Southern California, and the central counties in Florida are all attracting a smaller percentage of the 55 and older set from within their own state than from other states.

So why the difference?

Certainly, there’s a chance that this is just random noise from a 3-year period of time. But it may also signal a different rationale for seniors who move from out of state versus those in-state. Perhaps seniors moving within their own state are moving more often for quality of life reasons, but are not willing to move as far to do so. Seniors who are compelled to move longer distances may be doing so for more complex reasons, like work or family obligations, but are reluctant to relocate to big cities. And most importantly, far fewer seniors are moving than are needed to support the large increase in senior-friendly housing throughout the country.

More data will be needed to validate these theories. But if this general pattern proves to be true over time, it may signal a need for a shift in the way we attract and plan for seniors. The data suggest that efforts focused on aging in place are as important as those focused on attracting new senior populations. While synergies exist in making a community senior-friendly for existing residents and attracting new residents, local expectations about the impact of senior in-migration need to be appropriately tempered – at least for now.

By Jeremy Goldstein and Alan Steinbeck


Talkin' 'Bout My Highly Mobile Generation


Talkin' 'Bout My Highly Mobile Generation


There’s an old saying that “demographics are destiny,” and I was reminded of this while reading a recent report from the AARP Public Policy Institute about the impact of the baby boomers on travel in the U.S. over past 40 years. Using data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), the researchers demonstrate how this enormous (and thus enormously significant) generation has been driving – pun intended – transportation patterns for decades and will continue to do so in the future.

Mobile Boomers

You probably know the basic story line already: the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were the first suburban generation. They grew up in a land of tract houses, backyards, strip shopping centers, and busy roads filled with cars. This post-WWII period also was an era of unrivaled prosperity in America, when new household devices like the washing machine and other household appliances made housework easier and faster, just as changing social norms and economic growth led to more women entering the workforce. So how did this prosperity change how people get around, especially the baby boomers growing up in it?

Baby boomers started driving at a young age, and both young men and women entered the workforce with more education than previous generations. When the baby boomers started building families, they acquired “his” and “hers” cars, spread a housing boom to the suburban fringes, and, with the advent of dual-earner families, exhibited a strong reliance on “outsourced” household support, such as day care and eating out, that required travel. As a result, during the past four decades, the number of vehicles nearly tripled, travel rates more than doubled, and total vehicle miles of travel grew at more than twice the rate of population growth. Since 1977, travel for household maintenance trips (nonwork) grew fivefold.

The baby boomers haven’t just traveled more than other generations at a particular point in their adult lives; they've traveled more at every point. Every year of the NHTS data since 1983 (when they were ages 19-37) shows that boomers traveled more miles per day than everyone else. So far the trend has persisted even as the baby boomers have increasingly become empty nesters, so it’s not just because of driving their kids around.

New Ways of Getting to the Doctor’s Office

Baby boomers have used cars to become the most mobile generation, but the NHTS shows that they may be shifting modes as they get older. Their vehicle travel (in terms of trips per person) increased throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, but started declining after 1995. Meanwhile, transit travel increased steadily over the years, with a notable jump in 2009 when gas prices were spiking (and transit travel increased among all age groups).

And transit is not the only mode of transportation getting more attention from baby boomers. The AARP researchers cite several interesting (though unfortunate) statistics that suggest that an increasing number of older people are using other means to get around. A study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded that a surge in motorcycle fatalities is related in part to an increase in the number of riders over the age of 40. And another study showed that the average age of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes has risen from 32 in 1998 to 41 in 2008. The NHTS data show that baby boomers’ share of all trips by bike increased 64 percent between 2001 and 2009.

The baby boomers have spent the past decades wielding their enormous influence on housing and consumer market trends, but these days you probably hear the most about their future impact on health care. While the complexities of health care costs and practices is a subject for a different blog post, a chart in the AARP report stood out for me as a clear demonstration of how transportation is going to be a quality of life factor for the boomers as they age – and all of us for that matter. Check out the red line in this chart:

Medical appointments: more trips, same distance

We’re not traveling any farther to get to the doctor’s office than we did 26 years ago, but we sure are going there (and labs, imaging centers, therapists, pharmacies, etc.) a lot more often. As planners we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make employment centers, retail districts, and civic/cultural destinations more accessible by multiple travel modes. Medical “places” are just as important to our quality of life, and an extremely large cohort of people who are used to driving a lot are beginning to enter the phase of their lives where they (1) will need more medical care and (2) may eventually be unable, unwilling, or less likely to drive themselves.

A New Generation of Challenges and Priorities

Reshaping and redeveloping our communities to better integrate travel by transit, bikes, and walking is of course one way to tackle the issue. But retrofitting places and increasing accessibility is a long term evolutionary process and won’t reach everyone who needs it. Paratransit and similar human services transportation options are a vital piece of the puzzle, but challenges in coordination, funding, and service availability already exist – before the baby boomer retirement wave has hit. Whit Blanton of Renaissance wrote in the recent issue of the APA Florida newsletter about how local governments, agencies, and service providers are working to overcome these challenges. As they have been throughout their lives, the baby boomers are the vanguard of a new trend, but linking accessibility, wellness, and quality of life is a goal that every generation can appreciate.

--Dave Stamm, Cities That Work Blog


Slideshow Photo Pictometry