Special Report

The Best (and Worst) States to Grow Old

Thomas C. Frohlich, Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins

16. Oregon
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
16.0% (9th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 8.8% (23rd highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 28.3% (13th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.1 years (18th highest)

Oregon’s 65 and over population is relatively well educated. Of the state’s elderly residents, 28.3% have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 31.8% have completed at least some college or an associate’s degree, each among the higher percentages nationwide. The higher education level helps improve quality of life. But while a good education also often leads to high incomes, Oregon’s older residents are not as well off financially compared to many other states at the upper end of this list. The typical home in Oregon with an elderly head of household earns less than $40,000 annually, and fewer than half of elderly residents have retirement income, each in line with the respective national averages. Also, 61.3% of older renters in the state pay 30% or more of their income in housing costs, the second highest share.

17. Nebraska
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.4% (20th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 7.9% (16th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 20.7% (15th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.2 years (16th highest)

Relatively large shares of Nebraska’s elderly residents are financially stable and independent. Only 7.9% of those 65 and older in the Cornhusker State live in poverty, considerably lower than the corresponding national rate of 9.5%. Additionally, only 5.8% of elderly households receive food stamps, one of the smallest shares of any state in the country. One likely explanation for financial independence among the state’s elderly population is the high employment rate among those just below retirement age. Roughly 98% of those between ages 55-64 are employed, the third highest share of any state in the country.

18. Maryland
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
13.8% (10th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 7.4% (10th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 31.9% (2nd highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.5 years (25th lowest)

By many measures, Maryland is one of the more habitable states for older Americans. Maryland has the highest median household income of any state overall, and its elderly population is similarly wealthy. The typical Maryland home with an elderly head of household earns $52,458 annually, the third most after Alaska and Hawaii. For most people, retirement pensions and 401(k)s are a significant source of income in old age. Of elderly households in the state, 55.3% receive retirement income, the fourth highest share nationwide. Social Security benefits in the state, however, are relatively low. Just 85.9% of elderly households in the state receive such benefits, the second smallest such share.

Safe neighborhoods are especially important for elderly populations, and many parts of Maryland are some of the most violent in the country. Across the state, there are 446 incidents per 100,000 people each year, well above the national rate.

19. Delaware
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
16.4% (7th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 7.5% (12th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 25.7% (22nd highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.1 years (20th lowest)

Access to medical care and stable housing, among other things, make Delaware one of the more senior-friendly places in the country. Delaware has the smallest share of disabled seniors of any state. This reflects relatively strong health among the state’s elderly. In addition, homeownership can provide stability. Nearly 85% of homes with elderly heads of households are owned by their occupants, the third highest old-age homeownership rate in the country. Retirement planning and financial stability among older states residents may contribute to the widespread home ownership among the elderly, as 58.6% of elderly households in Delaware receive retirement income — the highest share in the nation. Unlike many other states at the higher end of this list, however, Delaware is not especially safe. The state’s violent crime rate of 489 incidents per 100,000 people is one of the highest in the nation.

20. New York
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.7% (24th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 11.7% (4th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 25.7% (22nd highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.0 years (6th highest)

Life expectancy in New York is about a year and a half longer than the 78.5 year national average, which reflects strong health among elderly and younger residents alike. New Yorkers may owe their relative health to strong access to medical care. Only 18.5% of adults in the Empire State do not have a personal physician, one of the smallest shares of any state in the country.

While New York’s elderly residents may have better health and access to health care, they are more likely to face financial hardship than most elderly Americans elsewhere. Nearly 16% of elderly households receive food stamps, a larger share than in any other state. Similarly, 11.7% of New Yorkers 65 and older live in poverty, one of the highest poverty rates among the elderly populations in any state.