Answer to Map #85

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Answer: This week’s map was a choropleth depicting the percentage of residents of each U.S. county who are over the age of 65. We awarded points to any person whose answer had to do with elderly people, including those who guessed that the map showed the median ages of each county.

The data used to make this map came from the 2010 U.S. Census. On this map, the darkest shade of purple indicates counties where more than 35% of the population is over the age of 65; each successively lighter shade of purple indicates a 5% drop. Consequently, the lightest shade is used for the four counties where fewer than 5% of residents are over the age of 65.

The oldest county in the U.S. (by a huge margin) is Sumter County, Florida, where 43.4% of residents are over 65. That county is home to The Villages, a massive planned retirement community. Florida in general appears quite dark on this map because many people like to retire to warm climates. In fact, the second oldest county is also in Florida. 34.1% of the residents of Charlotte County, Florida are over the age of 65.

The third oldest county might surprise you. It’s McIntosh County, North Dakota (34.0%). McIntosh County is one of many sparsely populated rural counties in the northern part of the U.S. that appear dark on this map. Most of these counties have weak economies, so young people don’t move there for work. In McIntosh County, the fact that the population is so old means that the county still experiences some trends that have waned in other parts of the country: 24.7% of the residents of the county still speak German at home.

At the other end of the spectrum, the least old county in the U.S. is the Aleutians West Census Area in Alaska, where only 3.5% of the residents are over 65. (Note that when we say “least old county” we don’t mean “youngest county,” which would be more appropriately measured by seeing which county had the highest percentage of young people, rather than the lowest percentage of old people.) We’ve talked about the Aleutians West Census Area recently in the context of Map #79—it’s a place that has seen a lot of immigration (relative to its tiny population, that is) and where many residents work in physically demanding jobs, especially fishing. If it were a proper county rather than just a census area, we might quip that it is no county for old men. Alas, we cannot do so.

In general, counties with big cities on this map are fairly light. This applies even to counties with big cities that are known as popular retirement destinations, such as Maricopa County, Arizona; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Clark County, Nevada; and Riverside County, California. These counties all have lots of residents over the age of 65 (though it’s worth bearing in mind that some of these residents don’t live there year-round and may count toward the statistics of some other, colder county), but they’re also places that attract many younger people as well. Some of you may have been surprised to see Miami lighter than most of rural northern Michigan!

As always with choropleths, please don’t make the mistake of confusing the counties with the highest percentage of residents over the age of 65 for the counties with the most residents over the age of 65. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the county that is home to the most elderly residents is Los Angeles County, California—the most populous county in the country for nearly every demographic. This list does give some prominence to the counties most stereotypically associated with retirement: Maricopa County, Arizona, is third and Miami-Dade County, Florida, is fourth.

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