As Americans, we’re often focused on status markers, like the amount of money we make, but research indicates that time we spend with people we care about, good health and income equality are some of biggest factors that lead to happiness. It’s not just how much we earn, it’s what we have to do to earn it, what we get in exchange for it and whether we have the time and health to enjoy our friends and family.
In other words, a balanced life.
To figure out where people are most likely to find that kind of balance, we compared seven measures in the 50 biggest metropolitan areas of the U.S.
- Average commute times
- How much of their incomes residents spend on housing
- How many hours people work compared to how much they earn
- Local income inequality
- How many people are in very good or excellent health
- Whether they get enough sleep at night
- How local prices for typical consumer goods and services (excluding housing) compare with the national average
Below are the places that ranked highest — and lowest.
Places with the most balanced lifestyles
1. Grand Rapids, Mich.
Residents of Grand Rapids work a little harder for their money than those at other top cities on our list, but that money seems to work a lot harder for them, too. Generally, housing only costs 18% of income, commutes are under 22 minutes, prices on consumer goods are about 5% lower than the national average, and income inequality is relatively low. Maybe that’s why 56% of the population are reported to be in very good health (the ninth highest), even though 14 other cities have fewer sleep-deprived citizens. Of course, we might expect denizens to be made of hearty stock, given all the opportunities for outdoor activity for those who can make it through the notoriously harsh winters.
Score: 83 (out of 100)
2. Salt Lake City
Another city with a vibrant outdoor culture, Salt Lake City takes the number two spot with a score of 81. The key seems to be the widespread prosperity: Salt Lake City has the second-lowest income equality of any metro we reviewed, which is especially impressive considering the median income was $69,490 in 2016, considerably more than the national median of $55,322. And it only takes an average of 22 minutes to commute to those high-paying jobs (about the same as Grand Rapids), where workers spend about an hour less a week than average Americans. Prices for goods and services are about on par with the national average, but Salt Lakers spend 20% of their income on housing — about 1% less than people in the other cities we reviewed. Almost 57% of the population are reported to be in very good health, and more than two-thirds report getting at least seven hours of sleep a night.
The Twin Cities are home to more people in very good or excellent health than anywhere else on our list. Maybe it’s because they get so much rest; only four other places report lower rates of sleep-deprived citizens. Income inequality is a touch higher than in Grand Rapids and Salt Lake (but still the fifth lowest on our list) and the average commute is about three minutes longer, but residents get more money for their time. Housing costs about 20% of the median income, and goods are priced about 4% lower than the national average.
4. Raleigh, N.C.
The Research Triangle Area places fourth on our list, thanks to a very healthy (third on our list) and well-rested (sixth for fewest sleep-deprived citizens) population. Commute times are fair at about 26 minutes on average, as is the percentage of median income that goes to cover the median housing costs (20 percent). In terms of income inequality, Raleigh also runs middle of the pack among cities we reviewed, ranking 23rd, but that’s a big jump from the first three cities on list, which ranked third, second and fifth. Moreover, Raleigh ranks 18th for both the amount they earn for how long they work and the cost of consumer goods compared to the national average.
5. Kansas City, Mo.
A healthy showing on average commute times (under 23 minutes), income inequality (8th lowest on our list) and share of income that goes towards housing (19%) sends KCMO to the fifth spot on our list. Kansas City ranks in the top half of our list for citizens who aren’t sleep deprived (22nd), percentage of the population in very good or excellent health (19th) and income earned compared to hours worked (24th). The place where they rank lower than more than half the cities on our list is in local prices compared to national averages (27th), but they should still expect to pay about 3.7 percent less than most other Americans for goods and services.
Places with the least balanced lifestyles
50. New York
It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that New Yorkers endure the longest average commute times (over 35 minutes), and pay the highest prices for goods and services of America’s 50 largest metro areas. It also sits at the 49th slot for income inequality. While New York has one of the highest median housing costs (San Francisco is the most expensive), it’s somewhat offset by higher median household income. But not too far offset; residents of only three other cities spend a larger portion of their income on housing. Lending credence to the famous epithet of “the city that never sleeps,” 41% of New Yorkers report being sleep deprived (Detroit is the most sleep-deprived, with just over half of residents reporting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night). With 31% of the population reported in good or excellent health, New York ranks 35th out of 50 in that area. One bright spot is placing 8th for the amount of money New Yorkers earn for the number of hours they work. Sadly, that didn’t help New York’s score much.
Not to be outdone, Miami also ranks dead last in two areas we measured: The cost of housing relative to income and income inequality. Miami fares poorly in other areas, too, like the number of hours worked relative to the amount of money earned (43th), average commute time (41st), and prices for goods and services relative to the national average (39th). It runs in the middle of the pack in other two categories, coming in 26th for both the percentage of people in very good or excellent health and the number of people getting at least seven hours of sleep a night.
Philly doesn’t rank last in any area, but it falls in the bottom ten for all but two categories: Average commute time (40th), income equality (41st), very good health (45th), enough sleep (47th) and consumer prices (47th). It does slightly better in the percentage of income that goes toward housing (35th), but has a stronger showing in the number of hours citizens work relative to how much they earn (15th).
47. Los Angeles
Citizens of LA earn a lot for the hours they work, but that doesn’t help too much given the high price of housing — only two other cities spend more of their incomes on housing (San Diego and Miami). The cost of goods and services are the highest outside of New York City and San Francisco. Add to that high income inequality (ranked 45th), that famously horrific commute (45th) and poor health (42nd) to get a low score.
46. Tampa, Fla.
Another Florida city in the bottom five, Tampa’s biggest flaw is the ratio of hours worked to income earned (ranked 45th). Tampa doesn’t rank that low elsewhere, but it doesn’t rank high in anything, either; its top showing is a rank of 31 in the percentage of people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Average commutes clock in over 27 minutes (35th), and only half the population are reported to be in good or excellent health (32nd). The city ranks even lower for the prices of goods and services (40th) and the percentage of income that goes toward housing (41st).
The top 50 Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs) are ranked on a 100-point scale on the following seven measures:
- Average commute time, as reported in the 2016 American Community Survey (“ACS”)
- Percentage of income spent on housing, calculated as (the median monthly housing cost) / (median household income / 12 months), as reported in the 2016 ACS
- The number of hours worked relative to income earned, calculated as (the mean average number of hours worked) / (divided by the mean monthly household income / 12 months), as reported in the 2016 ACS
- Gini coefficient to represent income inequality, as reported in the 2016 ACS
- Price index, calculated as (Price Index for Goods + Price Index for Other) / (2), as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the “Real Personal Income for States and Metropolitan Areas, 2015” release
- Share of the population in very good health, calculated as (percentage of the population in very good health) + (percentage of the population in excellent health), as reported in the 500 Cities Project (2016) from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”)
- Share of the population who gets fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, as reported by the CDC. Data was not available for the following metro areas, so the unweighted average for available areas in the same state was used: Greenville, S.C. and Harrisburg, Pa.
The sum of all ranks was then divided by seven, for a maximum possible score of 100 and a lowest possible score of zero.
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