Published February 15, 2021
For older adults (or younger ones who want to be prepared), deciding where to spend your golden years is no simple task. For those considering an interstate move and those who hope to age in place, it’s helpful to understand the benefits and drawbacks each state offers.
To analyze the states based on which are best for older adults, we studied all 50, comparing them across 15 statistical categories covering things like taxes, income, cost of living, weather, and much more. Jump to the bottom of the page to see our full methodology and sourcing.
Read on for the full study or to check out which states are best in the categories you care most about. But check out some key findings below:
- Florida is the top overall state, ranking in the top quarter in each of the three major statistical categories we considered. Montana was the lowest-scoring state.
- Every major region of the country is represented in the top 10 overall states, but more Southern states made the top of the list than any other region.
- Mississippi and Delaware, third and fourth overall, had two top 10 category finishes, the most of any states.
Overall Best to Worst
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Florida ranks first overall, but much of the rest of the list could be something of a surprise. Other southern states that offer a relatively affordable cost of living, like Mississippi and Oklahoma, are also near the top of the list. On the other hand, Arizona, famously a hotspot for retirees and snowbirds, doesn’t look so great on paper, as it ranks just outside the bottom 10.
Florida’s score was about 20 percent higher than the bottom-ranking state, Montana, in the final point tally, but Oklahoma was about half a point from being the best state for older adults. Here’s a look at where the states ranked and how they scored across all 15 metrics we considered:
Tax & Finances
Given that they’re reaching the end of their earnings years (and many are there already), how a state’s seniors are doing financially is a good analog for the quality of life an individual could expect in that state.
Given the importance of metrics that fall under this umbrella and how diverse they are, we considered a total of six categories relating to taxes, wealth, cost of living, and other finance-related areas.
The highest-scoring state in this category was Alaska, thanks largely to a favorable tax situation and median income for those 65 and older that’s almost $13,000 over the national median. On the other end of the spectrum, Minnesota had the lowest score in this category, coming in the bottom quarter in three of the six categories.
Here’s a look at the best and worst states for five of the six categories in this section (more on the sixth shortly):
The sixth category in this section is based on whether a state levies income taxes on Social Security benefits for older adults. While the picture is mixed for the federal government, which does tax this income in some cases, most states do not have an income tax for Social Security benefits for retired people. Four states tax these benefits (Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah), while seven other states tax them for some taxpayers but not all.
Health & Medical Care
Access to healthcare is important at any age, but for older adults, the type and number of common conditions or illnesses increases. To determine which states give older adults the best chance at accessing affordable, qualified healthcare, we considered five categories in this section, covering things like insurance premiums, Medicare coverage, healthcare employment, and life expectancy.
Nebraska had the highest score in this section thanks to one of the nation’s lowest after-tax-credit health insurance premium combined with high life expectancy. West Virginia had the lowest score in this section, ranking last or second-to-last in three of the five categories. Its best showing was in the percentage of seniors covered by Medicare, which may be related to the state’s high poverty rate rather than how positive the state is for older adults.
Here’s a look at the best and worst states for each of the categories in this section:
Culture & Lifestyle
Enjoying your surroundings and finding community are also vital parts of a happy life. For older adults, that includes things like living in a place with many others in their age group or (if applicable) no longer having to worry about snow. To understand the cultural and lifestyle differences that can make one state feel more welcoming for older adults than others, we considered data like the percentage of residents 50 and older, the median age of the population, and the likelihood of encountering warm weather.
Overall No. 1 Florida was the second-best state in this category, finishing a sliver behind Hawaii thanks to top five results for the size of the senior community in the state, its median age, and the average temperature. Alaska’s ranking in this category was the worst, and the state was in the bottom 10 across all four areas of this section.
Here’s a look at the best and worst state for three of the four categories in the section (more on the fourth in a moment):
The final data point in this category is the average number of cooling degree days over a recent five-year period. This is a good metric for understanding how many warm-weather days residents can expect and just how warm it gets. But because of the nature of the metric, there’s much too large a variation in values to make a fair comparison for all 50 states; for example, Alaska’s raw number in the category was 46, compared to 4,465 for Hawaii. To award points in the category, we instead calculated a median score from states with similar numbers.
According to the most recent census data, less than two percent of people retire to a state other than the one they already live in. But for those who are considering a move, exploring data like the one in this analysis can help point you in the direction of a state that will help ensure your golden years are exactly that.
We compared the states across dozens of categories, narrowing down the list of ranking factors to 15. For each category, we calculated a median value that was then compared to each state’s result in each category. The result was a point value representing each state’s relative performance in each category. A figure below 1 means a state had a worse-than-median result.
The lone exception to this method of comparison was the category covering how many hot weather days each state has. Because of the enormous variation in climate across the country, it was necessary to compare the states to others of similar geography. So in that category, each state’s points were based on how much warmer its weather is compared to states with similar numbers of hot days.
Here’s a look at the categories that made the cut, what each one measures, and how they played into each state’s score.
Tax & Finances
The data points in this category account for about 40 percent of each state’s total score, making it the most heavily weighted category that we considered.
- Relative tax burden: A percentage that combines property tax, individual income tax, and sales and excise taxes as a percentage of personal income. The most recent year for the combined rates is 2019.
- Tax on Social Security benefits: A measure of whether a state taxes Social Security income; states that don’t tax this type of income received one point, states that do received zero points and those that tax some but not all people with this type of income received half a point. The most recent year for this information is 2020, but West Virginia received a point because lawmakers are phasing out a state income tax on benefits beginning in 2022.
- Monthly housing costs: A dollar amount that represents the average monthly ownership cost for mortgaged and non-mortgaged housing units. This is a U.S. Census Bureau figure that includes taxes, loans, insurance, and other housing costs. The most recent year for this data is 2019.
- Annual electricity cost: A dollar amount that represents the average annual cost for residential electric bills per state based on data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The most recent year for this data is 2019.
- Median income, 65-plus: The median annual household income in households led by those 65 and older, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. The most recent year for this data is 2019.
- Average annual retirement income: The mean amount of retirement income per household with retirement income, which is defined as distributions from pension, 401(k), and IRA plans. The data is published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau, and 2019 is the most recent year with available figures.
Health & Medicine
This category accounted for about 33 percent of the total score, making it the second-weightiest category.
- Average Marketplace premium: A dollar figure that represents what the average beneficiary pays after income tax credits for a Marketplace healthcare plan per month. For every state but Idaho, this data was reported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services; Idaho’s data was not reported, so an average from the surrounding states was imputed. The most recent year for this data is 2019.
- Percentage of 65-plus with Medicare coverage: A percentage of each state’s population of residents 65 and older who have Medicare coverage. This is a U.S. Census Bureau figure, most recently reported for 2019.
- Active physicians per 100,000 people: The number of doctors employed per 100,000 people living in each state. This figure is from an annual study published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, mostly recently in 2019.
- Nursing and in-home health workers per 1,000 older adults: The number of nursing care and in-home health care workers employed per 1,000 older adults in each state. This is a calculation of employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau; the most recent year for both elements was 2019.
- Life expectancy from birth: The estimated number of years a person is expected to live from their birth. This data is based on an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019.
Culture & Lifestyle
These data points accounted for a combined 26 percent of each state’s overall score.
- Population 50 and older: The percentage of people in each state who are over 50 years of age; this is data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and 2019 is the most recent year with available data.
- Median age: The median age of each state’s residents. This U.S. Census Bureau data was most recently published for 2019.
- Average annual temperature: The overall average temperature in each state for 2019, as published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Average cooling degree days: An average of the annual number of cooling degree days per state between 2011 and 2015, as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A cooling degree day is a measurement of the temperature difference between the high on a given day and 65 degrees; for example, if an area hits 95 degrees, that equates to 30 cooling degree days. For Alaska, the base temperature used in the calculation was 60, and data for both Alaska and Hawaii was an average of all available data, covering 1949 to 2012 due to limitations in decompiled data for those two states.