Best Cities for Young Families in 2016

by Andrew Pentis and Rebecca Wessell

From economics and education to safety and healthcare and beyond, there are myriad important factors to consider when choosing where to live. Seeking to capture these factors and to determine the best American cities for young families, we considered 16 data points from eight sources and interviewed three experts. Below you will find our results, as well as a detailed methodology explaining how we arrived at them. 


 
 
 
 
 

Best 150 Cities for Young Families

Make that 156. Here is how every city captured in our study ranks in the five categories of data that affect young families most. 

Overall City For Working Parents For Buying or Renting a Home For Education and Environment For Outdoor Activities For Safety and Healthcare
1 Austin, TX 10 103 3 17 121
2 Houston, TX 17 47 31 28 134
3 Raleigh, NC 11 98 7 40 146
4 Des Moines, IA 3 51 30 102 84
5 Dallas, TX 26 79 15 13 129
6 Sioux Falls, SD 1 72 13 144 57
7 Seattle, WA 20 133 11 27 121
8 Omaha, NE 4 31 28 125 114
9 Green Bay, WI 8 69 32 134 18
10 San Diego, CA 28 152 12 1 125
11 Fargo, ND 2 75 51 150 41
12 Washington, DC 14 130 33 61 130
13 Rochester, MN 12 69 4 140 20
14 San Antonio, TX 32 50 29 23 133
15 Salt Lake City, UT 7 108 36 116 90
16 Bismarck, ND 9 72 24 153 16
17 Kansas City, MO 21 47 44 79 107
18 San Francisco, CA 33 150 10 3 123
19 Dubuque, IA 25 91 4 113 10
20 Albany, NY 17 121 35 124 24
21 San Jose, CA 40 148 1 4 116
22 Boston, MA 16 143 111 73 100
23 Pittsburgh, PA 27 26 23 109 72
24 Madison, WI 5 129 92 142 66
25 Minneapolis, MN 6 116 66 145 106
26 New York, NY 34 156 50 15 140
27 Urban Honolulu, HI 29 142 48 37 152
28 Columbus, OH 22 64 105 87 117
29 Columbia, MO 30 105 85 86 37
30 Billings, MT 23 91 54 128 52
31 Denver, CO 13 118 69 132 119
32 Lincoln, NE 19 80 70 138 91
33 Cincinnati, OH 43 43 27 72 88
34 Corpus Christi, TX 63 21 45 8 82
35 Baltimore, MD 30 131 85 77 120
36 Phoenix, AZ 46 55 72 38 142
37 Burlington, VT 15 120 49 155 152
38 Milwaukee, WI 23 125 148 111 115
39 Grand Rapids, MI 35 47 2 136 146
40 Cheyenne, WY 42 38 37 146 13
41 Atlanta, GA 59 91 43 24 118
42 Philadelphia, PA 45 139 90 46 128
43 Charlotte, NC 56 74 56 33 146
44 Nashville, TN 44 86 115 69 112
45 Charleston, SC 66 114 62 17 43
46 Trenton, NJ 48 147 119 66 23
47 Allentown, PA 51 126 57 83 27
48 Boulder, CO 49 151 22 96 22
49 Richmond, VA 57 106 20 64 76
50 Grand Forks, ND 39 86 71 152 9
51 Buffalo, NY 36 52 130 133 80
52 Providence, RI 38 136 156 99 71
53 Rochester, NY 40 85 77 136 67
54 Sacramento, CA 70 149 21 5 99
55 Portland, OR 61 144 26 42 132
56 Bridgeport, CT 55 154 96 62 64
57 Indianapolis, IN 50 68 74 94 141
58 Hartford, CT 36 137 149 131 63
59 Los Angeles, CA 69 155 83 2 135
60 Amarillo, TX 80 13 9 56 62
61 El Paso, TX 86 39 19 13 98
62 Waco, TX 84 29 58 31 40
63 Waterloo, IA 57 80 113 118 33
64 Sioux City, IA 67 7 42 126 35
65 Lexington, KY 62 76 91 85 102
66 Lubbock, TX 81 40 58 44 73
67 Rapid City, SD 52 78 102 149 28
68 Olympia, WA 73 123 8 89 3
69 Missoula, MT 46 141 99 154 29
70 Little Rock, AR 72 13 118 67 101
71 Portland, ME 52 131 88 147 14
72 Colorado Springs, CO 64 82 6 112 108
73 Peoria, IL 78 22 34 88 45
74 Brownsville, TX 97 15 46 9 56
75 Chicago, IL 54 140 95 96 139
76 Evansville, IN 76 10 103 90 59
77 St. Louis, MO 65 57 123 101 93
78 Baton Rouge, LA 79 66 117 43 97
79 Oklahoma City, OK 82 20 72 58 124
80 Worcester, MA 60 127 134 120 48
81 Abilene, TX 107 2 38 21 39
82 Columbia, SC 83 65 124 69 60
83 Great Falls, MT 71 61 142 134 19
84 Knoxville, TN 95 15 98 55 74
85 Huntsville, AL 99 25 41 53 85
86 Akron, OH 76 52 127 118 58
87 Tulsa, OK 92 12 64 74 110
88 Anchorage, AK 67 122 13 156 109
89 Orlando, FL 100 109 40 22 102
90 Fort Wayne, IN 88 1 39 117 89
91 Birmingham, AL 91 54 151 46 105
92 Fresno, CA 103 124 55 7 104
93 Spokane, WA 87 109 17 95 85
94 Louisville, KY 85 17 143 79 136
95 Jackson, MS 93 34 122 68 77
96 Syracuse, NY 73 94 112 141 47
97 Lynchburg, VA 102 59 107 57 16
98 Duluth, MN 75 89 116 150 25
99 Miami, FL 105 119 76 12 113
100 Roanoke, VA 111 40 16 60 44
101 Stockton, CA 110 135 53 6 92
102 Wilmington, NC 108 117 101 20 46
103 Topeka, KS 94 23 99 107 65
104 Wichita, KS 90 18 110 98 152
105 Binghamton, NY 89 104 61 139 2
106 Tampa, FL 117 86 51 11 96
107 Memphis, TN 104 43 139 51 126
108 Albuquerque, NM 95 113 108 74 130
109 Erie, PA 101 43 114 114 8
110 Asheville, NC 112 100 94 54 32
111 Wichita Falls, TX 131 2 25 35 30
112 Savannah, GA 123 90 85 30 79
113 Williamsport, PA 115 62 64 106 1
114 Las Vegas, NV 115 102 132 35 149
115 Flagstaff, AZ 97 128 120 143 26
116 Redding, CA 137 138 18 19 31
117 Charleston, WV 113 6 141 123 21
118 Chattanooga, TN 120 35 154 65 70
119 Jacksonville, FL 132 84 47 16 137
120 Pensacola, FL 147 31 63 10 14
121 New Orleans, LA 125 98 120 29 111
122 Montgomery, AL 129 33 125 46 83
123 Reno, NV 109 107 77 122 75
124 Springfield, IL 126 56 79 82 50
125 Springfield, MO 127 28 92 79 69
126 Cleveland, OH 106 95 150 115 94
127 Youngstown, OH 119 11 135 127 7
128 Lake Charles, LA 139 8 60 25 152
129 Yakima, WA 124 96 74 92 34
130 Toledo, OH 113 37 144 108 138
131 Shreveport, LA 135 24 133 50 78
132 Athens, GA 130 82 138 32 143
133 Lewiston, ID 138 62 88 71 6
134 South Bend, IN 120 19 153 129 49
135 Gainesville, FL 142 115 97 26 55
136 Dayton, OH 133 36 145 78 53
137 Lansing, MI 118 97 128 129 38
138 Columbus, GA 146 27 82 41 87
139 Atlantic City, NJ 128 153 152 84 12
140 Detroit, MI 122 77 137 103 127
141 Grand Junction, CO 134 109 67 110 11
142 Mobile, AL 153 29 79 34 95
143 Eugene, OR 136 145 108 44 151
144 Fort Smith, AR 143 4 140 93 54
145 Tucson, AZ 144 101 106 38 150
146 Medford, OR 141 146 103 76 42
147 Tallahassee, FL 149 112 84 49 81
148 Salem, OR 148 134 81 52 67
149 Muskegon, MI 152 60 68 91 5
150 Rockford, IL 140 67 129 100 61
151 Augusta, GA 145 43 130 63 143
152 Mansfield, OH 150 9 147 104 4
153 Macon, GA 156 57 126 59 143
154 Huntington, WV 151 5 155 105 152
155 Flint, MI 155 42 146 121 36
156 Pueblo, CO 154 71 136 148 51

Top (and Bottom) Five Cities for...

Every family has its own set of values for the place they want to call home. With this fact in mind, let's break down and explain where cities rank in four categories that are of importance: weather, commuting, education and buying/renting a house.

To rank America's best cities according to climate, we combined three metrics provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: the number of days of measurable precipitation; the number of days of a minimum temperature of 32 degrees or less; and the number of days of a maximum temperature of 90 degrees or more. We defined the best as those cities that recorded the fewest days of each. In other words, these are the cities are not too cold nor too hot and are more often dry than wet. Surprise, surprise: California led the way.

The U.S. Census Bureau's provides a nice, tidy statistic noting how much time it takes, in minutes, for residents of America's cities to get from home to work. If you abhor the slow train or the clogged highway as much as we do, consider moving to the country's most commuter-friendly places.

Perhaps the most important consideration for young families and the city in which they choose to live, education quality is not easy to quantify. With the best of intentions, we cobbled together four categories to comprise an education score: the number of children in a city; the percentage of families in poverty; the rating of the school systems (as performed by GreatSchools.org); and the proximity of state universities. Our belief is that kids should grow up with other kids, go to good elementary and secondary schools and have the option of paying discounted in-state tuition for their undergraduate degrees. These five cities do that best.

A city can have everything that a young family desires, but it still needs to be affordable. In this category, we considered four data points that speak to the ability of buyers -- and renters -- to find a suitable place to live: the cost of living index; the average amount of real estate taxes paid; the ratio between income and mortagage amounts; and the percent of residents who spend 40% or more of their income on rent. The following five cities averaged a top-25 ranking for each of the four categories.

How Do the Data Points Influence Each Other?

After culling together 16 data points from eight reputable sources in the process of producing this study, we asked ourselves whether any of pair of them showed correlation. For example, how does the average commute time for residents in a given city affect that city's econominc strength, if at all? Here are four such data interactions worth analyzing.


 
 
 
 

Methodology

To determine the best cities for young families in 2016, we sought out recent data from reputable sources. We ended our search with 16 data points from eight such sources that fit nicely into five separate categories of concern to all families. Below, we breakdown each statistic and point to its origin. In parenthesis is the stat's weighting, and those marked with an asterisk are state-based (not city-based).

For Working Parents
1. Economic strength (1.5) Policom Corporation -- 2015
2. Unemployment rate (1) United States Census Bureau (Table S2301) -- 2010-2014
3. Commute time (0.5)  United States Census Bureau (Table S0804) -- 2010-2014
4. Divorce rate (1) United States Census Bureau -- 2008-2012
For Buying/renting a Home
5. Cost of living (1) The Council for Community and Economic Research -- 2014
6. Real estate taxes (1) United States Census Bureau (Table B25103) -- 2010-2014
7. Income versus rent (1) United States Census Bureau (Table B25070) -- 2010-2014
8. Income versus mortgage (1) United States Census Bureau -- 2010-2014
For Education and Environment
9. School ratings (2.5)  GreatSchools! -- June 2015
10. Children in population (0.5) United States Census Bureau (Table B09001) -- 2010-2014
11. State universities rankings (0.5*) U.S. News & World Report -- 2016
12. Families in poverty (0.5) United States Census Bureau (Table S1702) -- 2010-2014
For the Outdoors
13. Weather (1.5)  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- 2015
14. Proximity of stadiums (0.5*)  Sean Rowland's Stadium and Arena Vists -- 2015 
For Safety and Healthcare
15. Crime (1.5)  Federal Bureau of Investigation -- 2015
16. Hospital rankings (0.5*)  U.S. News & World Report -- 2013-2015

Family Experts Weigh in

To expand upon our coverage of the best cities for young families, we put the data aside and reached out to three experts, including two psychology professors, for answers to three questions of interest to all families. Here is what they had to say.

Do you recommend any cost-cutting strategies for young families?

Angela Todd, Senior Consultant, Family Culture and History:

“As a family inclined toward the library, museum and arts events in our city -- and with a computer connection -- we have found it really easy to abstain from paid television of any kind.

"We also bought one family membership each year to a different arts institution: art museum, zoo, science museum, botanical conservatory, aviary, natural history museum, even a summer water park.”

What should young families consider when buying their first home?

D. Bruce Carter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Child & Family Studies at Syracuse University:

“Recognize that you are buying your first house and not the only house you are likely to own in your lifetime. Also recognize what are the things you need in a house and those things that you want. TV shows on home and garden networks often depict couples who want open floor plans, granite or quartz countertops and swimming pools. All of these things can be expensive, and you may want to trade some practical things for some of these luxury items… For example, many houses built before the 1960s had a single bathroom that was shared by four to six family members. While I'm not advocating a move back to the single-bathroom house, each family member probably doesn't need his or her own bathroom or sink. Children can learn to share by making adjustments in shared bathroom usage. Recognize that children's needs for privacy change over time and plan accordingly. Each child may not need her or his own bedroom before adolescence, but sharing private space (bedrooms and bathrooms) becomes increasingly difficult with age. A first house, when children are younger, may not have as many bedrooms or bathrooms as a house full of teenagers.

"If you can afford it, you should consider neighborhood and, perhaps even more importantly, school district. The school your child attends will be an important determinant of how well the child will do in life. Children from schools that provide poor preparation are less likely to succeed academically and professionally later on in life. Become engaged in your local PTA or other organizations that monitor the educational system in order to assure that your child is receiving the best education possible. Consider neighborhood safety and composition as well. Think about the possibility of playmates for your child and safe areas in which your children can play.”

How should parents help ease their children's adjustment?

Dr. Allison Buskirk-Cohen, Psychology Chair and Associate Professor at Delaware Valley University:

"Involve children in the move so that they feel like they are apart of the process and understand what's happening. Depending on the age of the child, parents should find ways that are appropriate. For example, a young child might be encouraged to give a favorite toy a "tour" of the new neighborhood, while an older child could "research" fun activities for the family to do in the new town.

"Recognize that children can have complex feelings, and encourage them to express their emotions. Someone might be excited at the thought of moving to a new house, but sad to leave friends. The movie "Inside Out" does a wonderful job portraying the emotional experience of a young child. As the movie shows, all of emotions have a role, so parents should not put pressure on children to feel a certain way.

"Maintain consistency where possible. If every Tuesday was 'Taco Tuesday' in your old home, make sure to keep that tradition once you move. These little things can help create a sense of stability and provide an anchor during a time of change.

"Remember that moving is a process. Children -- and adults -- adjust at different rates. A child who seems fine during the first few weeks might suddenly start experiencing difficulties. Another child might have trouble in the beginning, but do well after some time. Signs that children are having trouble adjusting often include regressing into immature behaviors like more temper tantrums or even physical symptoms like stomach aches. Parents needs to pay attention to these signs and respond with empathy. Social support can be one of the best predictors for transition success."