Sumter sets national pace in median age

Villagers dance during the nightly Brownwood Paddock Square live music event.

Sumter County once again leads the way in the demographic shift sweeping the country: the aging of America. Sumter, where most of The Villages is situated, has the highest median age in the nation for the seventh consecutive year, according to new data from the U.S. Census. The agency’s annual American Community Survey shows Sumter residents have a median age of 67.5 years — an increase of 0.1 years from last year’s survey. Sumter also ranks seventh nationally in the percentage of residents who are married, with 63.6%. And the county ranks as one of the largest hubs for veterans outside of communities that house a military base with 15.7% of residents who served their nation as a former member of the U.S. armed forces — a slight decrease from last year but still equal to about one out of every six residents.

Nation’s Oldest County

The lure of The Villages lifestyle continues to attract retirees from throughout the nation and contributes to the county, leading the way in median age year after year.

About 400 people a month are moving to The Villages, according to local statistics, and most of them are at least old enough to have been born during the baby boom from 1946 to 1964.

Kathy McDonald, the president of the Singles Baby Boomers, is seeing more and more of those boomers coming into The Villages.

“Everyone in the world realizes The Villages has the most recreational opportunities,” McDonald said. “Once you get here, you quickly realize that this is the best decision (you) ever made.”

Stefan Rayer, population program director at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, expects the aging trend in Sumter to continue.

“It’s those 60 and over that’s driving migration to Sumter County,” he said.

The median age for a male Sumter County resident is 67.1 years, and the median age for a female resident is 67.8.

The median age in Sumter is more than 29 years older than a typical American, whose median age is 38.2 years.

The next oldest county in the country also is in Florida, but Charlotte County trails Sumter by a significant margin at 59.8 years old.

Seniors make up a majority of the population in Sumter County, where 56.8% of the population is 65 years old or older, while in Charlotte County, just above 40% of the population is 65 years or older.

Lake and Marion counties also have populations with higher-than-average median ages. While Florida’s median population age is 42.2 years old, Marion County residents’ median age is 49.1 years old and the median age for Lake County residents is 47.3 years. In Marion and Lake counties, seniors make up 28.9% and 26.7% of the population, respectively.

A Leader in Marriages

A healthy marriage can contribute to overall physical and mental health, several studies have shown.

The security of having a life partner can increase a person’s overall contentment and promote positive behaviors such as eating healthier, drinking less and being more socially connected, said Dr. Scott Haltzman, medical director at Fuller Hospital in Massachusetts and a noted author on marriage and families.

Research also has shown married people are less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.

Linda Leopard, of the Village of Pinellas, said it came as no surprise to her that The Villages has so many married couples.

She and her husband, Richard, have been married for 51 years and have spent 6 1/2 of those years in The Villages. They golf, play pickleball, dance on the squares and attend social events together.

“I feel like the whole lifestyle here makes it very easy to meet other couples if you want to,” she said. “I’ve met people here who have been out doing an activity and met people and some of them have gotten married.”

Linda said having supportive neighbors and having so much to do in The Villages brings you even closer to your spouse.

“It brings you closer when you realize you have wonderful support not just in each other, but then your friends become your family, too.”

She also said even if you are single in The Villages, it won’t necessarily stay that way.

“The environment we’re in here, it’s easy for you to meet people,” she said. “People out here become friends fast.”

Veteran Stronghold

Sumter County remains a veterans stronghold with more than 18,700 veterans who call the county home — a decrease of about 670.

Camaraderie among veterans in The Villages has helped make American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake the largest such post in the world.

“We’ve lost our fair share of members, especially World War II veterans, and that makes me sad,” Legion Commander Bob Kiley said, “but we’re getting a lot more new members and that enables us to help more through our charities.”

He cited the new law signed by President Donald Trump that expands membership to any honorably discharged veteran who served at least one day between Dec. 7, 1941, and today. The previous limitation created holes as those who served during times of peace were not allowed to join.

“We’ve signed up a lot of new members since the law was passed and now are close to 7,000 members,” Kiley said.

Nationwide, more than 52 million residents are 65 years or older, the survey found. They represent 16% of the country’s population — a figure that is expected to keep growing until about 2040, when population projections show a leveling of the growth of the older population. By that time, demographics experts expect that the number of residents 65 and older will have grown to about 81 million.

Senior writer David Corder, Staff writer Frank Ross and Associate Managing Editor Mackenzie Raetz contributed to this report. Staff writer Amber Hair can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or amber.hair@thevillagesmedia.com. Staff writer Dayna Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or dayna.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.