The Villages Again Sets Pace in Aging Revolution

Pam Echterling, 68, of the Village of Pine Ridge, rides her bike around Brownwood Paddock Square.

“I don’t feel a certain age. I just do what I get to do,” she said.

The United States keeps getting older, and Sumter County and The Villages continue to lead the aging revolution for the sixth successive year, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

“Aging is going to be a factor for the next several decades just with the aging of the baby boomers, with such a large portion of the population getting into the retirement years,” said Stefan Rayer, population program director at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

In 2013, the median age for both sexes in The Villages metropolitan statistical area, which covers all of Sumter County, was 65.1 years. By 2016, it was 66.9, and by last year, according to Census data released this week, the median age here had crept up to 67.4.

That’s more than 29 years older than a typical American, and five years older than the median age of residents in the next-oldest county in the U.S., which is on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Charlotte County in South Florida and counties in New Mexico and Michigan round out the top five oldest counties in the nation.

“Just looking at the median age figure, that’s quite impressive,” Rayer said of Sumter. “It’s been going up by about half a year for the last several years. It’s been pretty consistent over time. I think in the near future it’s going to continue to go up.”

The aging of America doesn’t stop with Sumter County.

Although the majority of Midwestern counties in the United States are getting younger, many other counties in the South, West and Northeast continue to age, the Census data showed. The median age in the U.S. jumped from 37.2 years to 38 years from 2010 to 2017.

Millennials and baby boomers, the nation’s two largest demographic groups, are responsible for the trend, said Molly Cromwell, a demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau. As the birth rate gradually declines and baby boomers continue to age, seniors outnumber children.

The shift in Sumter also corresponds with the expansion of The Villages, which continues to attract thousands of new retirement-age residents to the county each year.

Residents of the Sumter County MSA are about 25 years older, as a group, than residents of other Florida metropolitan areas. In Florida, the median age for both sexes was 42.1, up from 37.6 in 2013.

Sumter residents also are substantially older than residents of other retirement counties. The median age for men and women in the Charlotte County MSA, the second-oldest in Florida, is 59.2, more than 8 years younger than the median in Sumter, Census figures show.

The ages of Lake and Marion county residents also have risen slightly, but both counties are much younger than Sumter. In Lake, the median age for both sexes was 47, up from 46.5 in 2013, while in Marion the median age for both sexes was 48.6, up from 48.2 in 2013.

Florida is home to the largest percentage of seniors nationwide, 20.1 percent, according to the data. The next largest pools of seniors are in Maine, with 19.9 percent, and West Virginia, with 19.4 percent.

“Florida is going to continue aging. It’s the same pattern you see in Sumter County, just not to the same extent,” Rayer said.

Sumter County Commissioner Al Butler sees why seniors swarm to Florida, despite its muggy, mosquito-filled reputation.

“Florida has always been an attractive place for seniors to retire to based on the weather and the low cost of living,” Butler said. “The Villages is the premier retirement place. And they don’t leave. They like the lifestyle. That’s been great for the growth of population. We’ve doubled our population in the last 10 years.”

Age is but a number for Villages residents, mused Harry Lumpkin, who is on the board of advisors for the Baby Boomers Club.

“Age appears not to be a factor that holds anybody back,” said Lumpkin, of the Village of Hadley. “No one is critical of anyone because of age. That’s one of the things that attracted us here. The vigor and vitality keeps people alive.”

Villager vitality shows up in various groups, activities and clubs, he said.

“I think that they are a very physically fit group because they are involved in all kinds of activity, from pickleball to golf to all kinds of dances,” Lumpkin said.

Additionally, baby boomers are helping area businesses thrive, Butler said.

“We have some really well-experienced and talented people who have retired to this location,” he said. “They give us a diverse social outlook and they attract businesses looking to serve their needs.”

Butler expects to see the average age of Sumter County residents continue climbing, with slight interruptions.

“People are living longer,” Butler said. “We’ll see a little change as we move forward. Our economy will diversify a little bit. Younger people will move in to support the needs of the older people.”

UF’s Rayer said we might see the aging momentum slow down in the coming years.

“Of course, it can’t increase forever,” Rayer said. “We also have migration, which is increasingly going to lower that increase in the median age just because most of the people who are moving to Sumter County are not in their 70s or 80s, but in their 60s.”

For now, Villagers can wear the oldest county crown with pride.

“Some people say ‘I’m retired’ so they don’t have to do anything,” Lumpkin said. “But that’s not how it is here. It’s the best of the best.”

Samantha Dunne is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5279, or samantha.dunne@thevillagesmedia.com.