From economics and education to safety and health care 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 the most.
For working parents
For buying or renting a home
For education and environment
For outdoor activities
For safety and health care
|4||Des Moines, IA||3||51||30||102||84|
|6||Sioux Falls, SD||$1||72||13||144||57|
|9||Green Bay, WI||8||69||32||134||18|
|10||San Diego, CA||$28||152||12||1||125|
Top (and bottom) 5 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 that 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 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.
Buying a home
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 mortgage amounts; and the percentage of residents who spend 40% or more of their income on rent. The top five cities averaged a top-25 ranking for each of the four categories.
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 break down each statistic and point to its origin. In parentheses is the stat's weighting, and those marked with this symbol (†) are state-based (not city-based).
For working parents
|1. Economic strength (1.5)||Policom Corp. - 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.org - June 2015|
|10. Children in population (0.5)||United States Census Bureau (Table B09001) - 2010-2014|
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 a part 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 the 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 stomachaches. Parents need to pay attention to these signs and respond with empathy. Social support can be one of the best predictors for transition success."