Our surveys purposefully do not include “tourists”, even those traveling for a year or two, or anyone relocating because of their employment, either for the private sector or for a government agency, military or civilian. We want to focus on those voluntarily choosing to relocate for a substantial period of time.
If you follow the media on the topic of Americans living overseas, you will think that the great majority are retirees seeking a lower cost of living, warmer weather, or some other goal associated in many people’s minds with retirement. It seems that every site with a “Retirement” section feels obligated to feature relocation for retirees at least once a year, if not more often. Rarely do they discuss other age groups elsewhere on their sites, if ever.
There is nothing wrong with this. I have worked with retiree relocators from the US for years. They are certainly a factor. But they are only one segment of a much larger market. From our first survey in 2005, it was clear that retirees were not a dominant group. However, this is not as clear when looking at age groups separately as we do here.
The pie charts above show the results for 2011 for each age group as a proportion of the total of those planning to relocate, the most “serious” category. We also divide the results into two groups: those under 55 and those 55 and older to give a clearer view as it is a fair assumption that the older group includes those planning retirement or retired. Of course, there are certainly a substantial number not retiring, so this biases the results toward retirees. Despite that, they are still a clear minority group. They are important, but no more than the others and smaller than either younger adults or middle-aged adults.
The results are obvious. Retirees, including most of those planning their retirements, are nowhere near a “great majority” or even a majority, of America’s relocators.
But let’s look at it from yet another perspective, over time. Below are three pie charts showing the two combined age groups.
As you can quickly see, those 55 and over are a minority (they always have been since our first survey), but they are a larger minority since the global financial crisis came into play. Why?
I think one reason is that this older age group is far more likely to own their home outright, having paid off any mortgage, or owe so little on an original sales price that was much lower two or three decades or more ago that paying it off is no problem. In addition, the 18-24 age group is out of the picture entirely in 2011, as was not the case before, but the younger group still grew as a percentage of the total, reflecting the rise of the 25-34 age group.
Any way you cut the pie, pardon the pun, people planning or in retirement are an important group of relocators, but not dominant or even sufficiently large enough, in my mind, to justify the media’s huge emphasis on their relocation, while usually ignoring everyone else.