Special Report

The Best (and Worst) States to Grow Old

11. South Dakota
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
15.2% (22nd highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 10.6% (8th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 20.5% (14th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.9 years (22nd highest)

South Dakota has established itself as one of the most senior-friendly places in the country. Elderly individuals often require more assistance and medical attention than their younger peers, and more health institutions in an area can make life easier for older Americans. South Dakota is home to the most hospitals per capita nationwide and the third most social establishments per person. Older people also tend to struggle to afford adequate and nutritious food compared with other adults, and the amount of food insecure seniors within the United States is on the rise. In South Dakota, however, just 5.4% of seniors lack sufficient access to healthy food, the seventh lowest share of any state.

12. North Dakota
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.2% (14th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 8.7% (25th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 20.3% (13th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.3 years (13th highest)

North Dakota is one of the best states in the country in which to grow old. The state’s oil industry, while reporting job losses in recent months, has contributed to one of the nation’s strongest job markets in recent years. The economic prosperity has likely paid off for older North Dakotans as well. Of the 55-64 year old population, just 1.4% are out of a job, the second lowest unemployment rate in the country. Of homes with elderly heads of household, however, just 37.9% receive retirement income in the form of 401(k)s, pensions, and other sources, the second smallest share in the country.

13. Maine
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
18.2% (2nd highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 8.9% (22nd highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 26.4% (17th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years (23rd highest)

Older people are frequently perceived as more vulnerable and as a result often targeted by criminals. In Maine, however, senior citizens have the benefit of safer communities compared to elderly populations in much of the rest of the country. The state’s violent crime rate of 128 incidents per 100,000 people is lower than in every state except for Vermont. With a 98% employment rate among those between the ages of 55-64, older Maine residents have comparatively strong job security and relatively few older people are out of a job.

14. Massachusetts
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
15.1% (24th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 9.3% (18th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 30.0% (9th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.2 years (5th highest)

While chronic diseases and disabilities disproportionately affect the elderly, poor health is by no means an inevitable consequence of aging. Of noninstitutionalized elderly individuals in Massachusetts, fewer than one in three have a disability, one of the lowest proportions in the nation and well below the national average share of 36%. Relatively good health among older state Massachusetts residents likely helps explain the state’s high life expectancy of over 80 years, which is fifth highest in the country.

Well-designed and accessible public infrastructure can help elderly individuals in particular maintain their independence, which is often essential to quality of life. Massachusetts has one of the most-used public transit systems in the country.

15. New Jersey
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.7% (24th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 8.6% (25th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 27.5% (15th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.8 years (8th highest)

While old age does not imply poor health, the elderly are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and conditions that require medical attention than younger segments of the population. In states with high quality health systems, which disproportionately benefit elderly individuals, relatively large shares of the population have primary care physicians. Only 18.2% of New Jersey adults do not have a personal doctor, one of the smallest such shares in the country. With relatively strong health care infrastructure, only about a third of noninstitutionalized Garden State residents 65 and older have a disability, one of the smallest shares of any state in the country.

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