Boston or Florida?

Retire in Boston or in Naples, Florida?

My husband is newly retired, and we’ve spent hours talking about where we might want to live after I retire in a few years. Our imagined scenarios are always changing.

But I’m clear on one thing: I do not want to buy a house in Naples, Florida, where a couple we know did recently. No offense to Naples, which has lots to recommend it – no shoveling! But the typical resident is 65 years old. In fact, Naples is older than the state of Florida, where retirement communities are so pervasive that they distinguish between the “young-old” (ages 60-75) and the “old-old” (over 75).

Boston, where my husband and I live now, couldn’t be more different. It is swarming with college students and young people, including his two sons and daughter-in-law. Boston’s young people work in rapidly changing industries like high-tech or environmental engineering, and I like it that way. Boston’s median age is 32 – half of Naples.

As I get closer to retiring and am faced with change, I think to myself, “Who wants to live in the midst of a bunch of old people like me?”

But that’s precisely what many retirees do. There are many examples of cities that have moved dramatically in the direction of one or the other extremes – Boston or Naples; Madison, Wisconsin, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wall Street Journal reported that new retirement communities are popping up in places that weren’t traditional resting places for snowbirds: retired baby boomers’ net migration to the Appalachian region where Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee converge has quadrupled since 2011.

This age segregation is a relatively new area of interest to demographers. Almost 60 percent of the neighborhoods and other subdivisions within U.S. counties have moderate or high levels of segregation, which is similar in degree to the level of segregation between the U.S. Hispanic and white populations, Richelle Winkler found in a 2013 study of federal Census data.

Age segregation also occurs in rural areas, as younger people leave for jobs and older people move in. In some rural parts of the Great Plains, Winkler writes, there are two times more seniors than young adults.

Retirees often flock to retirement communities to improve their social life. My 82-year-old mother lives in an Orlando-area retirement community with like-minded neighbors who enjoy the regularly scheduled parties, holiday dinners, and bridge sessions at the clubhouse.

But there are big downsides to relocating to older communities and losing connections with the young. Such decisions often mean moving away from family. Gerontologists say that when older people live apart, they are not well understood, fostering ageism. The positive models of more age-diverse communities, a British sociologist says, “create new bridging and bonding ties.”

Another danger for seniors is social isolation, especially as aging friends become ill or die and the survivors lose important personal bonds. My widowed, 90-something grandmother used to say, “All my friends are dead” – and this was literally true. Isolation can even be a killer, says James Lubben of Boston College’s Institute on Aging, because seniors who lack a social network are more likely to neglect their health. This impact on health “is on a par with smoking,” he said.

Of course, the young adults who live in neighborhoods that tilt toward older people can also be at a disadvantage. An older community may not view government services for low-income parents or day care facilities as a priority. The opposite might also be true in neighborhoods with larger young adult populations that might not provide senior centers and health facilities.

There are big tradeoffs when choosing between a Boston and a Naples. Prospective retirees contemplating a move should weigh them carefully.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  

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