and “Sunbirds” cause big shifts in Florida’s older population
Newswise — Florida’s elderly population fluctuates by nearly 20
percent over the course of a year with the winter arrival of
“snowbirds” embracing warmer weather and the summer departure of
“sunbirds” escaping to cooler climes, a new University of Florida
At the peak of the 2005 winter season, an estimated 818,000
snowbirds traveled from their home states or abroad to spend
at least a month in Florida, while in July about 313,000
elderly Floridians left their residences to spend at least
30 consecutive days somewhere else, said Stan Smith,
director of UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
“Long recognized as a permanent retirement destination, Florida
appears to be a leading destination for elderly temporary migrants
as well,” said Smith, whose study was published in a recent issue of
the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences. “Yet no previous
study has tried to estimate the number and timing of temporary
migrants both entering and leaving Florida, or to analyze their
Based on telephone surveys of 7,041 respondents contacted between
September 2000 and December 2003, Smith found that more than 12
percent of Florida’s permanent residents 55 and older had spent more
than 30 consecutive days somewhere other than home. Eight percent
went to another place in-state, while 92 percent left Florida, most
frequently to a state where they had previously lived, he said.
Spending winters in Florida appears to be a preliminary step to a
permanent move for many snowbirds, the study found. Nearly one in
four of the survey respondents — 23 percent — who had moved
permanently to Florida between 2000 and 2003 reported that had lived
part of the year in the Sunshine State before moving there
year-round. Furthermore, 30 percent of snowbirds reported that it
was “likely” or “very likely” they would move to Florida permanently
in the future, he said.
Snowbirds tended to be away from home for longer periods of time
than sunbirds, according to the study, which also included
information from a statewide survey of 267 hotels and motels in
Florida. More than 72 percent of snowbirds spent more than three
months at their secondary place of residence, compared with only 30
percent of sunbirds.
The findings have important implications for communities, which must
plan for traffic congestion, additional police and fire protection,
increasing demand for medical services and other needs as population
increases, Smith said. Although Florida’s overall elderly population
shifts by an average of nearly 20 percent from winter to summer, the
shift is even greater in communities with more snowbirds,
particularly in South and Central Florida, he said.
“Decisions have to be made whether to accommodate the peak
population during the winter, which means having excess capacity at
other times during the year, or planning for the smaller summer
population, or taking an average of the two,” he said.
Seasonal in-flows of elderly residents are not confined to Florida
and other Sunbelt states during the winter, Smith said. Other states
that experience the shift include Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan
and New York.
“The numbers are likely to increase over the next few decades as
incomes grow and the baby boom generation ages,” he said.
Although nearly 83 percent of snowbirds came to Florida because of
its warm winters, escaping the hot summers did not play a major role
in the travel patterns of elderly Floridians. Less than 10 percent
of sunbirds left their homes for weather-related reasons, with more
than half departing to visit family and friends and 16 percent
traveling for recreational purposes.
Snowbirds were older and healthier than sunbirds, who in turn were
older and in better health than “stayers,” Floridians who spent less
than 30 consecutive days a year away from home, Smith said. More
than 63 percent of snowbirds rated their health as “very good” or
“excellent,” compared with 55 percent of sunbirds and 49 percent of
stayers, he said.
Snowbirds and sunbirds were overwhelmingly white, at 94 and 93
percent respectively, compared with 89 percent for stayers, he said.
Snowbirds were significantly more likely than sunbirds to be
married, while “sunbirds” were more likely than snowbirds to be
employed, Smith said. Three-fourths of all snowbirds were married,
compared with 59 percent of sunbirds and 56 percent of stayers, he