Sperling's Best Places

Best Cities for Seniors

July 10, 2005

A new study from Sperling's BestPlaces identifies those places which do the best job of caring for its elderly population. The "Best Cities for Seniors" study examined the state of senior care in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

"This is different from the usual studies of retirement living," said Bert Sperling, the study's primary author. "When we first retire, we have the energy for traveling and sightseeing. At some point, we will all need specialized resources and facilities to help us cope with aging. That's what this study examines."

This unique new study, produced in partnership with Bankers Life and Casualty Company, identifies cities that offer the best resources for less active seniors. The study analyzed nearly 50 categories such as various senior living facilities, comprehensive medical care, specialized transportation services, and a significant senior population.

Top Ten Cities for Seniors

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. Pittsburgh, PA
  5. Milwaukee, WI
  6. Philadelphia, PA
  7. New York, NY
  8. Boston, MA
  9. Cincinnati, OH
  10. Chicago, IL

Complete list

Portland, Oregon

The City of Roses has progressive senior health services, garnering top scores for adult day cares, assisted living facilities, and senior meal services. Another particular strength is a transportation system that boasts clean and convenient public transit and excellent special access services.

The emphasis on senior health care seems to make a difference- Portland residents have a long life expectancy and a low incidence of heart disease. One caveat is the gray and gloomy weather- only Seattle has fewer sunny days per year.

Seattle, Washington

The biggest city in the Pacific Northwest has a low violent crime rate and, like Portland, offers excellent health care and transportation services for seniors. Seattle ranks near the top in life expectancy and low incidence of heart disease.

Seattle's only obvious drawbacks are the high cost of living and a lack of sunny days (the fewest among the nation's 50 largest cities). Another unique facet of these top two Northwest cities is an acute lack of religious involvement. Seattle and Portland do offer ample religious facilities, but they also have the lowest percentage of church-going residents in the nation-- so be prepared to sit alone in the pew.

San Francisco, California

"The City by the Bay" garnered the highest scores for public transit and special access services, and also scored well in low rates of heart disease and cancer. San Francisco is also known for its mild climate, though summers by the Bay can be surprisingly cold. Low property crime and a very high concentration of seniors already living there helps to assure that new residents won't feel lonely or unsafe.

Seniors who choose to settle down here should be financially well-off, as San Francisco has the highest housing costs and cost of living of the 50 cities in this study.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh has a very highest percentage of senior residents in our top ten cities. There is a very strong spiritual community, with a great number of religious congregations and one of the highest percentages of church-going residents. The Steel City's solid transportation system has some of the most comprehensive special access services in the country, and Pittsburgh has a very high number of hospitals per capita.

The cost of living is low, and both houses and apartment rentals are affordable, though it falls short in the number of facilities for assisted living and adult day care (think "gray care").

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee scores very well in the health category, thanks to many hospitals per capita and exceptional senior living facilities. It also ranks highly in the transportation category with the shortest commute time in this study and excellent special access services.

Milwaukee also has a healthy and affordable economy and benefits from consistency- the city doesn't score significantly low in any of the major categories.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A high percentage of seniors call Philly home, so new residents won't have any trouble meeting new friends. Philadelphia is second only to New York in the social amenities, thanks to numerous colleges, libraries and museums.

Philadelphia has excellent adult day care and superb assisted and independent living facilities. Property crime is also low. The downside is that it has low scores in health indicators such as life expectancy, heart disease and cancer rates.

New York, New York

New York is sometimes considered by its residents to be the center of the universe, where you can find almost everything you want or need. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to living in the center of it all. New York has the lowest geriatric doctor to senior ratio and some of the lowest scores for senior living facilities and services.

A comprehensive (if crowded) public transit system ensures that seniors will be able to get around the city easily. Also, the high cost of living can be a significant burden.

Boston, Massachusetts

As one of the nation's education centers, historical Boston gets high scores for the social category. There's also a low crime rate and a strong spiritual foundation in Beantown.

Boston gets high scores for the availability of specialized senior living facilities, but despite its reputation as a center for health care, it has a low ratio of physicians who specialize in geriatrics. Living in Boston can be expensive, with some of the highest apartment rents in our survey, but this is partially offset by a stable economy and a low unemployment rate.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati is number three overall in the senior health care category and ranks first in independent living facilities. With a low cost of living and affordable housing, it's easy on the pocketbook, and it has a surprising number of cultural attractions.

However, Cincinnati has uniformly low scores in the health categories such as life expectancy and cancer rates.

Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City posts average scores for senior living facilities, but falls short in the areas of doctor to senior ratio, poor senior meals services, and health indicators such as life expectancy.

Despite living in the home of the blues, residents here report a low incidence of depression. Also, Chicago has a high percentage of religious attendees, so residents are more likely to find community in their church group.

Bottom Five Cities for Seniors

"Those at the bottom of the list are all great cities, but they don't offer the specific combination of senior services and facilities such as those found among the top cities in our study," said Bert Sperling.

For example, although Miami has some of the study's best scores for life expectancy and cancer rate, it also has some of the lowest scores for senior living facilities. It may be that the majority of Miami's elderly residents (and there are many) have sufficient resources to provide for their own living arrangements, and rely less on commercial facilities.


The data categories include health, economy, transportation, housing, social, crime, environment, disease, and spiritual. Each data category was statistically weighted to reflect the needs of the senior population, and the 50 largest U.S. cities received points based on their relation to the other cities' scores in that data category. Categories were suggested by senior living experts from the International Longevity Center, Health and Human Services, and Bankers Life.

This study could not have been done without the assistance of Total Living Choices which provided information about each city's senior living options and resources, and MealCall which supplied information on senior meal programs.

About Bankers Life and Casualty Company

Established in 1879, Bankers Life and Casualty Company focuses exclusively on the insurance needs of seniors. Additional information on the company can be found at http://www.bankers.com.