America is aging quickly, but some cities are welcoming more seniors than others.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the growth of the senior population. Between 2000 and 2010, the senior population grew at a 15 percent pace, not 20 percent, as stated, increasing the senior population by 5 million, not 40.2 million. The previous version said that during this decade, the Census Bureau projects the senior population to increase by another 60 million, which is incorrect. Census forecasts that the total senior population will reach 60 million by the end of this decade. The corrected version appears below.

It has been widely reported that the population of seniors—i.e., those over 65—in the United States is growing rapidly. Less reported is the extraordinary acceleration in the rate of this growth. For instance, from 1990 to 2000 the senior population grew at 12 percent; over the next ten years, however, it grew at 15 percent to 40.2 million by 2010. During the current decade, the senior population is projected by the U.S. Census Bureau to grow by a stunning 55 percent, adding more than 20 million seniors to about 62 million in all.

This growth is significant nationally, and it's already figuring into national debates about health care and Social Security. At the local level, though, the impact will be even greater. Among the 50 largest metropolitan regions in the United States, the rate at which the senior population grew ranged from a high of 50 to 60 percent down to a decline of 5 percent. While most regions did experience growth, three - Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Buffalo - actually saw their senior populations decline.

The wide disparity in growth rates among metro regions means the benefits and challenges of a growing senior population will hit each metro region differently. Local officials and planners, developers, and others working in the housing and retail sectors, and those providing services for aging seniors, should pay close attention. Below, a table showing the fastest growing senior populations:

Rank Metro Area Number of New Seniors
1. Los Angeles 199,000
2. New York City 167,000
3. Dallas 153,000
4. Atlanta 147,000
5. Houston 144,000
6. Phoenix 129,000
7. Washington, D.C. 127,000
8. Riverside, California 98,000
9. Chicago 87,000
10. Minneapolis 69,000


Absolute numbers, however, do not necessarily show where seniors may be having the greatest political and market impact. This is better indicated by the rate at which the senior population is growing.

For instance, while the number of new seniors in the New York City metro region was the second highest in the nation, the senior population grew at a rate of just 7 percent. In Raleigh, North Carolina, the rate of growth was a stunning 60 percent. These fast growth rates also indicate regions that attracted new seniors from other parts of the country.

Here is a breakdown of the metros where the percent of seniors grew the most: 

Rank Metro Area Percent Growth
1. Raleigh 60 percent
2. Austin 53 percent
3. Las Vegas 50 percent
4. Houston 39 percent
5. Dallas 38 percent
6. Charlotte 36 percent
7. Phoenix 33 percent
8. Denver 32 percent
9. Orlando 29 percent
10. Riverside 28 percent


Where did those seniors who moved during the period from 2000 to 2010 come from? Here are the ten metro regions where the senior population grew most slowly over the past decade. Note that each of these regions falls well below the national rate of 20 percent, suggesting that seniors were moving out of the area.

Below, a chart showing the metros where the senior population grew the least:

Rank Metro Area Percent growth
1. St. Louis and New York City (tie) 7 percent
2. Detroit 6 percent
3. Milwaukee 4 percent
4. Tampa 4 percent
5. Philadelphia 4 percent
6. Providence 1 percent
7. Cleveland 1 percent
8. Buffalo -3 percent
9. Pittsburgh -5 percent
10. New Orleans -5 percent


This list confirms that during at least the early part of the last decade, seniors were moving from the cold Northeast and old industrial metropolitan areas to the warmer climes of the South, West and Southwest. The New Orleans region is, of course, an exception, and the outward migration from there is largely attributable to Hurricane Katrina.

Another exception is Tampa. Its low rate of growth mirrors Miami’s 8 percent rate of growth in the senior population. Florida did attract many seniors, but they moved to Orlando and Jacksonville, which had growth rates of 29 and 31 percent, respectively. And even though it would seem that many seniors moved away from the New York City metro area, it still added more seniors than anywhere else in the country but Los Angeles.

•       •       •       •       •

Seniors benefit communities, but they also present them with challenges. For instance, seniors are wealthier than any other age group. Despite the recession, their rates of home ownership are higher, they support the local economy, they pay local taxes, and they have a very low crime rate. 

They are also more politically conservative, and what they want in and need from a community is often quite different from what young families want and need. This is changing the local political climate in places where the growth of seniors is significant. Seniors are, for instance, pushing for more parks, open space, and libraries, often at the expense of funds for schools and playgrounds. While this is not in itself a problem, in fiscally constrained suburbs where schools are overcrowded and teachers are being laid off, the educational needs of children are becoming a lower priority.

Growing senior populations also present challenges and opportunities for housing developers, retailers, and service providers. Seniors often have the time and experience to lead local efforts to block new infill development. However, they also have the means to buy property or rent new apartments in suburban town centers if they are able and choose to sell their large suburban homes.

Once again, in looking at these numbers and lists, keep in mind that the last decade spans two quite distinct periods - the housing boom through 2006 and the housing bust and recession from 2007 on. It may well be the case that the trends of the early years in the decade are obscuring the impact of the crash, and that the latter part of the decade may be a better indicator of what will be experienced in the years ahead. Such is the challenge of reading trends in uncertain times like the present.

Photo credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

Reprinted with permission from Urban Land, the online publication of the Urban Land Institute; copyright 2012 by the Urban Land Institute.

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