Four times as many retirees migrated to Virginia in the 1970s as in the 1960s, but the state still has a way to go before it moves into the ranks of retirement havens, according to census figures.

"I don't think there's going to be a huge boom" of retirees moving to Virginia, "but there is already a trend and it's going to continue," said Charles F. Longino Jr., director of the Center for Social Research in Aging at the University of Miami (Fla.).

Between 1970 and 1980, the number of elderly migrants to Virginia increased by 59 percent, according to census figures. The number between 1960 and 1970 had grown 14.5 percent.

Though the total number of elderly who moved to Virginia from 1975 to 1980 was only about 37,000 -- far below top-ranking Florida's 437,000 -- it was enough to make Virginia the 11th most popular state among retirees. During the 1960s, the state was ranked 13th.

If the trend continues, Longino said, Virginia could become one of the top-10 Sun Belt states in terms of attracting elderly retired people. The Sun Belt stretches from Virginia to Florida and to California across the southern United States.

Nationwide, the number of elderly migrants has increased dramatically.

Nearly 1 million senior citizens moved across state lines between 1955 and 1960; but between 1975 and 1980, about 1.6 million moved, said Longino and Jeanne C. Biggar, a University of Virginia sociologist.

"The next census could easily reveal that the interstate migration rate of older persons has for the first time become more than half that of the general population," Longino said.

In the 1970s, the country's senior population grew by nearly 30 percent, while the U.S. population of all ages grew only 11 percent.

The number of elderly who moved across state lines grew 50 percent, at a rate twice that of the migration of the general population of all ages, Longino said in an interview.

"It's likely that elderly migration will grow even faster than it has already" because of the increasing mobility and the growth in numbers of older people, he added.

Both researchers said they believe that Virginia's future growth as a settlement location for elderly retirees will mimic, to a smaller degree, current development in North Carolina.

"What is happening in North Carolina will probably happen in Virginia, which just has a little later start," Longino said.

"The band of Sun Belt states in the mountains -- such as Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas -- will continue to grow and will probably grow at a faster rate than the old states at the southern part of the Sun Belt, like Florida."

Popular retirement locations in Virginia are the Piedmont, especially Albemarle County and Charlottesville; areas along the Chesapeake Bay; the Washington suburbs and the Williamsburg-James City County area.