Many Americans prefer to live in rural areas, but far more call cities their homes. Though urban settings are less than 3 percent of the U.S. landmass, they contain around 80 percent of the total population.
There are many factors that make highly-populated areas great to live in. Big cities represent opportunity, economic and otherwise, which appeals to people of all walks of life – especially young professionals seeking advancement in their careers and social lives. Another main draw is easy access to diverse dining and entertainment options that are comparatively scarce in more rural settings.
But big-city life requires tradeoffs, too. Higher cost of living is a concern, along with pollution, traffic delays and limited living space. Each major U.S. city has a unique set of issues, to go along with its own character and charm. However, some big cities tackle their problems and emphasize their strengths more efficiently than others.
To help readers find the best big city to call home, WalletHub compared the 62 largest U.S. cities based on 56 key indicators of attractiveness. Our data set ranges from the quality of public schools and life expectancy to job opportunities and property taxes. Read on for our findings, insight from a panel of experts and a full description of our methodology.
Best Large Cities to Live in
‘Education & Health’ Rank
‘Quality of Life’ Rank
|1||Virginia Beach, VA||65.49||1||30||7||42||5|
|4||San Diego, CA||63.80||51||12||3||4||9|
|5||Las Vegas, NV||62.63||24||41||39||3||13|
|6||San Francisco, CA||62.59||54||4||4||2||27|
|7||New York, NY||62.22||62||34||17||1||1|
|8||San Jose, CA||62.18||49||2||2||24||15|
|14||Colorado Springs, CO||60.26||4||27||14||39||25|
|30||Fort Worth, TX||54.75||23||13||38||54||30|
|31||San Antonio, TX||54.63||20||9||52||30||45|
|32||El Paso, TX||54.61||17||46||46||53||11|
|34||Los Angeles, CA||53.92||61||38||27||8||12|
|36||Oklahoma City, OK||53.68||2||23||48||49||51|
|38||Long Beach, CA||53.03||58||28||12||37||16|
|43||Corpus Christi, TX||51.72||22||20||54||55||39|
|50||Kansas City, MO||50.45||15||40||26||44||59|
|52||Santa Ana, CA||49.77||59||22||29||58||18|
|55||New Orleans, LA||48.08||39||56||58||16||37|
|58||St. Louis, MO||43.73||26||57||61||20||60|
Ask the Experts
To help ease the process of finding the right big city to call home, we asked a panel of experts to weigh in on key matters relating to relocation. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and thoughts on the following key questions:
- What are the most important financial factors to consider when deciding where to live?
- What is the biggest mistake people make when planning a move to a new place?
- What steps should a person taken to determine if an area is right for him or her to move to?
- Is it always a good idea to rent before buying in a new area?
- What can local policymakers do to attract and retain new residents?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best and worst large cities to live in, WalletHub compared a sample of 62 U.S. cities (with populations of more than 300,000 each) across five key dimensions: 1) Affordability, 2) Economy, 3) Education & Health, 4) Quality of Life, and 5) Safety.
We evaluated those dimensions using 56 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable living conditions. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), the square root of the population was used to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across cities.
Finally, we determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its total score and used the resulting scores to rank-order the cities in our sample. Our sample considers only the city proper in each case and excludes cities in the surrounding metro area.
Affordability – Total Points: 20
- Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~2.86 Points)
Note: This composite metric comprises the following calculations: Median House Price / Median Annual Household Income and Median Annual Rent Price / Median Annual Household Income.
- Median Annual Property Taxes: Full Weight (~2.86 Points)
Note: This metric was calculated as follows: Median Real Estate Tax / Median House Price.
- Cost of Living: Triple Weight (~8.57 Points)
- Median Annual Household Income: Full Weight (~2.86 Points)
- Homeownership Rate: Full Weight (~2.86 Points)
Economy – Total Points: 20
- Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Share of Population Living in Poverty: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Debt per Median Earnings: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Population Growth: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
Note: “Growth” compares the population size in 2017 versus in 2013.
- Income Growth: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
Note: “Growth” compares the income figure in 2017 versus in 2013.
- Building-Permit Growth: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
Note: This metric compares the number of annual new, privately owned residential building permits issued in 2017 versus in 2016 versus in 2015.
- Wealth Gap: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
Note: This metric measures the difference between the highest quintile and the lowest quintile of mean household income.
- Job Opportunities: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Foreclosure Rate: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Personal Bankruptcy Rate: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Food Insecurity: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
Note: Food Insecurity is the percentage of the population who did not have access to a reliable source of food during the past year.
Education & Health – Total Points: 20
- Quality of Public School System: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
Note: This metric is based on GreatSchools.org’s ratings of U.S. public school systems.
- High School Graduation Rate: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Share of Population Aged 25 & Older with a High School Diploma or Higher: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Share of Insured Population: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Quality of Public Hospital System: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
Note: This metric is based on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ ranking of public hospital systems.
- Premature-Death Rate: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
Note: This metric measures the “Average Years of Potential Life Lost” rate. In other words, it refers to the average number of years a person dies before the age of 75.
- Poor or Fair Health: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Life Expectancy: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Share of Live Births with Low Birthweight: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Share of Obese Adults: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Share of Physically Inactive Adults: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
Quality of Life – Total Points: 20
- Average Hours Worked per Week: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Average Commute Time (in Minutes): Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Walk Score: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Bike Score: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Access to Public Transportation: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of commuters who use public transit.
- Quality of Roads: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of pavement in poor condition.
- Traffic Congestion: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
Note: This metric measures the annual hours spent in congestion per auto commuter.
- Parkland (as Share of City Area): Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Playgrounds per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Restaurants per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Bars per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Dance Clubs per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Coffee & Tea Shops per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Museums per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Performing Arts Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Movie Theaters per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Music Venues per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Fitness Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Bike Rental Facilities per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Shopping Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Beaches per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
- Sports Fan-Friendliness: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best Sports Cities” ranking.
- Weather: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Cities with the Best & Worst Weather” ranking.
- Air Quality: Full Weight (~0.83 Points)
Safety – Total Points: 20
- Violent-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Property-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Traffic Fatalities per Capita: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Total Law-Enforcement Employees per Capita: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
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Sources: Data used to create this ranking were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Council for Community and Economic Research, Chmura Economics & Analytics, TransUnion, Indeed, County Health Rankings, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Walk Score, The Trust for Public Land, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Road Information Program, Environmental Protection Agency, INRIX, GreatSchools.org, Renwood RealtyTrac, Yelp and WalletHub research.
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