What Is Successful Aging?
Successful aging is vitally important to all of us. We all want it for ourselves, and for our parents and grandparents. While each one of us has specific interests, needs, and priorities related to our own aging, at the Milken Institute, we define successful aging in America this way:
- We want to live in places that are safe, affordable, and comfortable.
We compiled statistics on cost of living, employment growth, jobless rates, income distribution, crime rates, alcoholism, and weather.
- We want to be healthy and happy.
We looked at a range of factors, including the number of health professionals, hospital beds, long-term
hospitals, and facilities with geriatric, Alzheimer’s, dialysis, hospice, and rehabilitation services. We also examined hospital quality and affiliation with medical schools. To determine the general wellness of a community, we studied the rates of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, smoking, and mental illness and looked at the availability of recreation, wellness programs, and other healthy pursuits.
- We want to be financially secure and part of an economy that enables opportunity and entrepreneurship.
We examined each area’s tax burden, small-business growth, poverty levels, and employment rates for those 65-plus, and the number of reverse mortgages.
- We want living arrangements that suit our needs.
We compiled statistics on the costs of homeownership and rental housing, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health-care providers, and checked for programs that help pay for senior housing, among other data.
- We want mobility and access to convenient transportation systems that get us where we want and need to go.
We studied commute times, fares, the use of and investment in transit for the public and for seniors specifically, and the number of grocery stores and other key retailers.
- We want to be respected for our wisdom and experience; to be physically, intellectually, and culturally enriched; and to be connected to our families, friends, and communities.
We compiled statistics on volunteerism, employment opportunities, and factors relating to encore careers, and we reviewed indicators including access to fitness and recreational facilities, training and education, senior enrichment programs, museums, cultural and religious institutions, libraries, and YMCAs, as well as the proportion of the population 65 and older.
We used all those factors and more to develop our Best Cities for Successful Aging index. The overall rankings are based on eight subcomponents (general indicators, health care, wellness, living arrangements, transportation/ convenience, financial well-being, employment/education, and community engagement). Each subcomponent is based on multiple individual indicators;
we used 78 indicators in all.
How Is the Index Different?
There have been aging rankings before, often based on opinion and speculation, or focused on a limited aspect of aging. But the Milken Institute’s data-driven approach represents a deeper level of analysis. Developed by our research staff with input from our Best Cities for Successful Aging Advisory Committee
, the index rankings are based on a weighted, multidimensional methodology that examines the factors above and others that help determine the quality of life for older Americans.
Don’t confuse the Milken Institute Best Cities for Successful Aging Index with the
many rankings and opinion polls that identify the sunniest or most inexpensive spots
to live out retirement. Up to 90 percent of older Americans want to age in place,
according to a recent survey by AARP, and our goal is to enhance their communities
so they can do so with the greatest quality of life possible.
As you review the findings, you will see three main rankings for each city: one for the
aging population overall, one for those 80 and older, and one for those 65-79. We
created the two sub-indexes because we recognize that seniors 80 and older may
have different needs than their 65-year-old counterparts.
While the three main rankings rely on the same data sets, the data are weighted
somewhat differently. For those 80-plus, we give more weight to factors such as
health care and weather, while the sub-index for those 65-79 focuses more on active lifestyles and engagement opportunities. The overall rankings are not simply an average of the metro’s performance in the sub-indexes, but are the result of their own weighting convention. (For detailed information on how the indicators are weighted, view the methodology.)
The index also has separate rankings for the 100 largest cities and 259 smaller
metropolitan areas to account for the disparity in their potential resources and the lack of certain data for the smaller metros.
The Milken Institute's objectives for the Best Cities for Successful Aging Index are straightforward. We want to generate virtuous competition among cities and galvanize improvement in the social structures that serve aging Americans. We want to encourage and promote best practices and innovation. We want to catalyze solutions-focused dialogue among thought leaders, decision-makers, and stakeholders. In short, we want to shape the future and spread successful aging
We're pleased to congratulate the public- and private-sector leaders of the Milken Institute Best Cities for Successful Aging on their communities' accomplishments. We look forward to their ongoing achievements and to acknowledging the work of other innovative leaders as they push to improve their cities' rankings.