North Carolina Surpasses Florida As #1 Retirement State

How North Carolina Surpassed Florida As The Number One Retirement State

Posted by John Brady for

bridgeFlorida and Arizona have long been the favorite 2 states for retirement migration. A new study from Del Webb, however, finds that the Carolinas, North and South, have usurped FL and AZ’s traditional positions as the favorite retirement destination states. This new preference is so significant that Florida is no longer experiencing a net gain in retirees. This article will concentrate on how and why North Carolina overcame Florida to become the number 1 retirement destination. In addition to trying to explain how this important shift has come about, we will also review some of the top places to retire in this diverse state. A future article will explore South Carolina.

North Carolina’s Special Sauce

A warm winter climate has traditionally been the most important reason for choosing a retirement state. That preference is a key reason why AZ and FL have always been at the top of the retirement state pyramid. Since winters aren’t all that warm in the Carolinas, North Carolina’s overtaking Florida in retirement popularity represents a profound change. The trend is so pervasive that it has spawned a new term, “half-back”, which describe retirees who retired to Florida from the northeast only to later move “half way back” home to the Carolinas. So what has changed among retirees to bring this phenomenon about, and just what is in North Carolina’s secret retirement sauce?

74_2In a recent Del Webb survey among baby boomers on retirement preferences the top reasons for choosing where to live in retirement were cost of living, health care, climate, and opportunities for culture and recreation. Family and friends were further down the list. Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found the same general reasons for retirement moves, but in a different order: family, financial, better location, leisure/climate, and health. Looking at these and related reasons, is there a logical explanation why boomers now prefer North Carolina over Florida for retirement?

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So Why is North Carolina coming out on top for retirement preference?
After analyzing all of these factors we had hoped that we would find a compelling reason why North Carolina is beating the pants off Florida in attracting retirees. Unfortunately, that is not the case. On most factors the states are about even – each one comes out ahead on a few points and behind on some others. Conclusion: there must be some intangibles at work here.

The Cool Factor
These are strictly our opinions, but here are some reasons why North Carolina’s Secret Sauce is giving Florida a licking in the retirement department:

  • Florida just isn’t cool anymore. In our opinion most of us baby boomers are obsessed with fads – being cool by being in on the latest trend. Too many movies have parodied retirement life in Florida from “Cocoon” to “In Her Shoes”. A lot of people don’t want to be associated with the blue haired, shuffleboard playing set that is displayed in popular culture about Florida.
  • Florida is tacky and crowded. By no means is the whole state that way, but there are many, many towns where everything is new and every store is a big box or a chain. Some people are rejecting that barrenness, along with the intense traffic and development that comes with unchecked growth.

On the positive side, North Carolina has a cool factor. Towns like Asheville, New Bern, and Chapel Hill have good reputations as interesting places to live. North Carolina represents something new and undiscovered, with the advantage of being not too far away or too different from the northeast many retirees are moving away from.

Most popular retirement towns in North Carolina
Here are the most popular retirement towns in North Carolina as determined by page visits to their reviews at
Asheville – In the western mountains – the #1 retirement spot in the country
Beaufort – An old seaport (and Blackbeard the Pirate’s retirement town) with considerable charm
Chapel Hill – A lively college town and home to the University of North Carolina
Hendersonville – Small town in the Blue Ridge National Heritage area
Mount Airy – The fictional home of Mayberry in the mountains
New Bern – Smaller and more charming, near the coast
Pinehurst – Charm and understated elegance in a legendary golf community
Southport – An active fishing village in southern North Carolina – where “Dawson’s Creek” was filmed
Winston-Salem – A larger city that is attracting retirees

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