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Big city or small city? Surprising statistics about where Americans want to retire


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Everyone has different preferences when it comes to where they want to retire. While some prefer the cozy atmosphere and quiet evenings that accompany life in a small town, others prefer the tall buildings, bright lights, and lively atmosphere that accompany retirement in a big city.

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A recent GOBankingRates survey provided some insight into where people prefer to retire.

Read on to find out where most Americans want to retire, as well as realtor recommendations for the best small towns and big cities to consider.

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26% of Americans want to retire in small cities

The survey found that 26% of Americans are looking for smaller cities to retire to. Small towns beat out seaside towns (19%) and big cities (10%) and received more responses than “where I live now” (23%). and “close to family” (16%), although many of these locations may be small towns.

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Surprisingly, the majority of respondents who want to retire in small towns are on the younger side; 33% of Americans aged 18 to 24 answered this way. The numbers decline slightly with age, with 24% of Americans aged 25 to 34 wanting to retire in small cities, 30% of those aged 35-44, 26% of those aged 45-54 and 55- 24% of 64 year olds. Only 15% of over-65s are interested in retiring in a small town (but 44% said “where they currently live” and 19% said “close family”, which in some cases could be small towns).

There is also a slight divide when looking at retirement by gender in small towns. Our survey found that 28% of men said they were interested in retiring in a small town, compared to 24% of women.

10% of Americans want to retire in big cities

Small town life isn’t for everyone. Our survey also found that 10% of Americans want to retire in big cities, apparently craving more social opportunities at this stage in life.

Millennials were the age group most likely to mention big cities, with 17% of 25-34 year olds and 13% of 35-44 year olds.

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Gen X and baby boomers had little interest in big cities, preferring small towns, beach towns, their current locations and places close to family.

In big cities, more men than women expressed the desire to retire, 12% to 7%.

Pros and cons of retiring in a big city

While being surrounded by social opportunities, lots of activities, and the hustle and bustle of the big city may sound appealing, is retiring in the big city worth the higher cost of living?

“One of the benefits of retiring to a big city is that there are more activities and social opportunities,” says Rinal Patel, co-founder of We Buy Philly Home and a licensed Realtor. “There are also more jobs and healthcare options in a big city. You can also find a greater variety of housing options. However, living in a big city can also be expensive, and it can be difficult to get around without a car. It can also be a bit difficult to find a sense of community in a big city.”

Affordable big cities for retirees

You can still enjoy your retirement in the big city without feeling the financial strain. Niche’s list of “Best Cities to Retire” features affordable cities with populations over 250,000, and one might be right for you.

According to Niche, one of the most ideal big cities for retirees is St. Petersburg, Florida. The city has a vibrant retirement population with 18% over the age of 65, and the median home value falls below $182,900.

Those looking to live in a low-cost city with a wide variety of activities should definitely consider Plano, Texas. About 13% of the city’s residents are over the age of 65, and the median home value is $291,300. This city has many experiences to offer its residents, including the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve and the Interurban Railroad Museum.

If you don’t mind hot summers, be sure to also consider Scottsdale, Arizona. This city features a median home value of $493,200 and 28% of the city’s population is senior citizens. Scottsdale has a lot to offer its residents with bars, parks, coffee shops and amazing local eateries.

The pros and cons of retiring in a small town

Retiring in a small town gives homeowners the opportunity to live at a lower cost and enjoy more space and privacy. It also offers lower pollution levels and starry night skies. If wide open spaces and a more whimsical feel are up your alley, you might want to consider a small town.

However, there are downsides to living away from the big city. If you are a social butterfly and enjoy the constant lifestyle, then a small town may not be the best fit for you. There are often fewer jobs, limited recreational activities, and more sprawling neighborhoods.

Consider these small towns

If you’re thinking of retiring in a small town, you might want to consider one of these areas recommended by real estate professionals.

“New Braunfels, Texas, is a small town between Austin and San Antonio, and it has convenient access to both cities,” he said. Sal DiMichelle Sr., owner and broker of Lake Geneva Area Realty. “In 2021, the population of this small town was 98,857. The city celebrates its rich heritage with several annual festivals, including Wasselfest and Wurstfest. In this small town, you can take your grandchildren to the Schlitterbahn Waterpark or a nature bridge safari through the Wildlife Ranch and caves. You can also go to the Comal and Guadalupe rivers to experience their scenic beauty and stay cool in the summer.”

If small town living near Florida’s Gulf Coast sounds up your alley, be sure to visit Fort Myers, Florida. Fort Myers is surrounded by palm trees and is located along the Caloosahatchee River.

“Fort Myers’ population in 2021 was 92,245, a 6.8 percent increase over last year’s population,” Dimichelli said. “35 percent of the total population of this small town is 60 years of age or older, which shows that this town is very popular with the elderly. In 2022, Fort Myers was ranked as one of the top 10 cities on the US News list of best places to retire. The affordability of housing in this city is one of the main reasons why this city is so popular for retirees to live on a budget.”

Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 997 Americans ages 18 and older from across the country between August 9 and August 11, 2022, asking 16 questions: (2) How much do you think you will need to retire? (3) At what age do you realistically want to retire? (4) At what age did you start saving for retirement; (5) What worries you about retirement? (Select all that apply); (6) Do you plan to work in retirement; (7) What assets do you have in your retirement portfolio? (select all that apply); (8) How has current inflation affected your retirement plans? (9) How much of your retirement do you plan to fund with Social Security? (10) How do you feel about the future of Social Security when you retire? (11) What percentage of your salary are you currently investing for retirement? (12) You plan to move after your retirement; (13) Where would be your ideal place to retire; (14) What government programs do you plan to use for your retirement? (select all that apply); (15) Do you have a retirement plan; and (16) How much do you think the average American has saved for retirement? GOBankingRates used PureSpectrum’s survey platform to conduct the survey.

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