Surprise Contenders Among Best Cities for Successful Aging

The United States is experiencing a revolution in the culture of aging — and some cities are more fit than others to accommodate millions of aging adults who are upending convention and seeking to remain active members of society. 

Madison, Wis., and Iowa City, Iowa, prove they have what it takes, ranking as the top large metro and small metro, respectively, in the “Best Cities for Successful Aging” report, published by the Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank that conducts research on a variety of topics. 

The report examines how metropolitan areas are meeting the needs of aging Americans, and rates and ranks their capacity to enable people to age independently and productively, with security and good health.


It measures, compares and ranks 352 U.S. metropolitan areas — 100 largest and 252 smaller metros — based on how well they enable older people to fulfill their potential in their own lives as well as in their contributions to society and to others across the age spectrum.

And despite being obvious contenders, Sun Belt locales were largely absent from the lists. Instead, places like Salt Lake City, Utah; Syracuse, N.Y.; Bismark, N.D.; and Cheyenne, Wyo. ranked among the best cities for successful aging. 

As the best large city, Madison, Wis. — home to the University of Wisconsin — is a “hub of innovation and intellectual stimulation,” the institute writes. 


“Economic growth gets a boost from UW’s research needs, and quality health care is a big plus. Cultural amenities attract highbrows and regular folk alike, and Madisonians also enjoy the amenities of Chicago, just 150 miles away.”

The report’s overall rankings are based on eight subcomponents: general indicators, health care, wellness, living arrangements, transportation/convenience, financial well-being, employment/education, and community engagement. Each subcomponent is based on multiple individual indicators — 84 indicators in all.

Each of Madison’s subcomponent scores mostly ranked in the top 25, although the city ranked lower in the financial well-being and living arrangement categories.

Milken Institute ranks Madison the No. 1 city for those age 65 to 79 to live, and No. 3 for those age 80-plus. 

On the other hand, Iowa City, Iowa — the top small U.S. metro — ranks first for seniors age 65 to 79, as well as those 80 and older. 

Its subcategories had strong scores, with health care nabbing the No. 1 spot. 

“With a top-notch health care system, a strong economy and low unemployment, Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, is an attractive option for encore careers and those seeking good health services,” the report states. 

To read the full report, click here

Written by Emily Study

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