Older Movers: Migration and the Sunshine State

Older Movers: Migration and the Sunshine State

Lori Gonzalez, Ph. D.


Florida is a popular retirement destination due to its lack of state income tax, warm temperatures, and relatively low housing costs. Florida’s 60 and older population is increasing and is projected to do so for the next several decades to over 30 percent in 2030 (see Table 1 below). Similar to the national trend, Florida’s population growth is due to the aging Baby Boomers and increases in life expectancy. However, one other source is responsible for Florida’s growth—migration from other U.S. states and abroad. With Florida’s rising long-term care expenditures (see Appendix A) it is important to understand how the influx of retirees to Florida could affect future health care expenditures. This issue brief explores Florida’s older migrants.

Source: Department of Elder Affairs, State Plan on Aging FY 2017-2020

Florida Residents

Florida has historically been a migratory state and today, Florida maintains a diverse population with a sizeable number of those born in other states and abroad.

Table 2 shows the number and percent in each age group that reside in Florida in 2005 and 2017 by place of birth. The majority of those in the 55-64, 65-74, and 75 and older age groups living in Florida were born in another state. Those who were foreign born make up the second largest group, followed by those born in Florida, and finally, those native but born outside of the U.S. All categories had a percent increase between 2005 and 2017 except for those born in another state which had a decrease. The largest increase was among those who were 55-64 years old and born in Florida. The largest decrease was among those 55-64 and born in another state.

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Table 3 shows median income for individuals living in Florida by place of birth (Florida versus another U.S. state) in 2005 and 2017. The amounts are 2017 inflation adjusted dollars. In both years, those born in a state other than Florida had higher median incomes than those born in Florida. Median incomes for both groups have dropped slightly between 2005 and 2017.

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Table 4 shows the birthplace of those who were residing in Florida when they died, by age groups in 2007 (the most recent, available data). Of the 55-64 age group, the largest U.S. born group who died in Florida was also born in Florida–3,366 individuals. The second largest U.S. born group were born in New York–2,145 individuals. In the 65-74 and 75-84 age groups, the opposite is true where a higher number are born in New York, followed by Florida. Those who died in Florida in the 85 or older age group had the highest numbers born in New York (9,193) followed by Pennsylvania (3,942) and Florida (3,599). Also notable, a large share were not born in the U.S. with most of those individuals having been born in the “remainder of the world” or in Cuba.

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To summarize:

  1. There is a larger percentage of older people born in other states and residing in Florida than those born in Florida.
  2. Over time, the percentage of those born in Florida or abroad has been increasing, while the percentage born in another U.S. state has been declining.
  3. Those born in other U.S. states and residing in Florida have higher median incomes, compared to those born and residing in Florida.
  4. Among the older population, those who die while residing in Florida tend to be from Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, or abroad (especially, Cuba).

Migrants: From another U.S. State to Florida

Florida has topped older migrants’ (both temporary and permanent) destination list for decades (Longino, 1995; Longino & Bradley, 2003). Temporary residents or “Snowbirds” peak in January and February at about 700,000 older Florida residents and dwindle to 30,000 in late summer (Smith and House, 2006). Interestingly, Snowbirds have been found to have better health than “Stayers”, or full time Florida residents (Smith and House, 2006).

In the 1960s, Florida gained a large migrant population from New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio (Gregory, 2018). Does the same pattern hold true today? Table 5 shows the number of people who lived in Florida in 2005 and 2016 by their state of residence 1 year prior. In both years, Florida had the largest migrations from New York, followed by Georgia and New Jersey. In terms of a percent increase, Florida had the largest increase between 2005 and 2016 from North Dakota, Utah, and New Mexico. Florida had the largest percent decrease from Maine, Wyoming, and Montana.

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Table 6 shows the number and percentages of individuals 55 to 64, 64 to 47, and 75 and older who moved to Florida in either 2009 or 2016. In both years, those in the 55 to 64 age category had the highest percentage of migrants, followed by those 65 to 74 years old and those 75 years and older. There was a decline in the percentage of those 55 to 64 years old moving to Florida between 2009 and 2016. By contrast, there was an increase in the percentage of those in the 65 to 74 year and the 75 and older age groups.

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The following information is particularly useful for local governments and state agencies who are planning and coordinating long-term care services. Tables 7 through 9 show which Florida counties received the largest number of migrants from a different state and abroad by age group in 2016 (Appendix B shows the full table).

Table 7, for example, shows the top 5 Florida counties with the largest percentage of those 55 to 64 years old who migrated from a different state and abroad. Counties that received the largest percentage of those 55 to 64 from other states are Sumter, Charlotte, Collier, Walton, and Flagler. Counties that received the largest percentage from abroad include Osceola, Highlands, Hendry, Broward, and Miami-Dade.

Looking across Tables 7, 8 and 9, Central Florida’s Sumter County tops the list across all age groups for percentage of migrants from another state to Florida. This is not surprising given that Sumter County’s largest community is “The Villages”—founded over 30 years ago, marketed and self-described as “a warm, secure and friendly hometown where all your retirement dreams come true” (The Villages, 2018). For those migrating to Florida from abroad, Central Florida’s Osceola and South Florida’s Broward Counties make the top 5 list across age groups.

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To summarize:

  1. Among older age groups, migration to Florida declines with age.
  2. Those 55 to 64 years old have the highest percent of migrants to Florida, compared to other older age groups.
  3. Between 2009 and 2016, those in the 55 to 64 year old group experienced a decrease in migration to Florida while the other groups experienced an increase.
  4. Migration across Florida counties is uneven.

Migrants: From Florida to another U.S. State

Some northern migrants migrate back to the states from which they originally came when their health and assets decline or when dependence on state health care increases–indicating that while the cost of living is lower in Florida, the health and social safety nets of northern states like 16 New York and New Jersey might be superior (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2016). Additionally, older migrants might want to return to family. Other migrants are “halfbacks” or those who migrated to Florida from northern states like New York, found that living in Florida could result in very high property taxes. They migrate halfway back to states like Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas where property values and taxes are lower (Wall Street Journal, 2018). In fact, Appalachia’s 65 and older population is above the national average (17.6 percent compared to 15.2 percent) and increasing (Pollard and Jacobsen, 2018).

Another group of older migrants, “Sunbirds”, or Florida residents who spend some part of the year, typically during the summer in another state make up over 600,000 older Floridians (Smith and House, 2006). Interestingly, Sunbirds enjoy better health than full-time Florida residents, but are not as healthy as Snowbirds (Smith and House, 2006).

Table 10 shows the percentage of those who lived in Florida 1 year ago and their current state of residence. Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas received the largest number of migrants from Florida in 2005. In 2016, Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah received the largest number of migrants. The largest percent increase of migrants from Florida to another state occurred in Tennessee, Virginia, and South Carolina, possibly reflecting the halfback migration trend. The largest percent decrease was for Florida migrants headed west to Wyoming, South Dakota, and Utah.

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Florida’s 60 and older population is increasing, in part, due to migration. Florida’s population is comprised mainly of those who are born in other states. Among the older population who reside in Florida upon death, most tend to have been born in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, or abroad (especially, in Cuba). Older people ages 55 to 64 are more likely to migrate to Florida, compared to their older counterparts, but between 2009 and 2016, those in older age groups experienced a percent increase in migration to Florida and those ages 55 to 64 experienced a percent decrease. Outmigration from Florida to other states is also occurring with most migrating to Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah with large percent increases over time to Tennessee, Virginia, and South Carolina (halfback states).

There are several implications of Florida’s older migrating population trends for long-term care planning—one is to figure out how much of lack of affordability and halfbacking is due to healthcare costs, quality, and accessibility. Figures 1 and 2 show AARP’s comparison of states’ long-term care systems overall and by access and affordability. Both figures show Florida near the bottom 20 and Figure 2 shows that several of the halfback states score better on access and affordability. Future research should examine whether these factors influence migrants’ decision making process. Another is to understand the needs of Stayers (native Floridians, northern state migrants, Cubans, and other long staying populations) in future planning, especially in light of research that indicates that Stayers are less healthy than Snowbirds or Sunbirds. The final implication is with regard to how counties plan for the future provision of long-term care for their populations. Planning should consider how much of their county’s older population are temporary vs. permanent migrants to predict things like the number of nursing home and assisted living beds needed and how future expenditures will need to be adjusted. Finally, this issue brief used aggregated data which allows for tracking trends at the state and county level, however, future research should use individual level data to track how individuals move from place to place (and perhaps even why) to better understand the migratory patterns of older movers.

Appendix A

Source: Medicaid Expenditures

Appendix B

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