Are Suburbanites Happier?

MLewyn's picture

A recent survey called “State of the City” has gotten significant media coverage, in part because of its claim that rural and suburban Americans are happier than city-dwellers. For example, a Citylab description of the survey stated that 45 percent of suburbanites rated the quality of life in their community “excellent” as opposed to only 1/3 of city residents.

However, this claim overlooks a key fact: city residents are more likely to be poorer and (in some cities) less educated.* When these factors are controlled for, the results are a bit different. 40 percent of urban college graduates rated their community “excellent” – only slightly below nonurban college graduates (44 percent). However, there was a significant gap between urban and nonurban people who had not graduated from college; 24 percent of the former group rated their community “excellent” as opposed to 39 percent of the latter.

The survey sought to control for income by comparing people earning under $50,000 to people earning over $50,000- an instrument so blunt as to be useless, since $50,000 is barely a middle-class income in high-cost regions. I note that urbanites earning over $50,000 were only slightly less happy with their communities than nonurbanites, with 45% rating them as excellent (as opposed to 50% for nonurbanites). By contrast, only 27 percent of urbanites earning under $50,000 were equally satisfied.  It seems clear that the poorer and less educated you are, the less satisfied you are- but without more data on people at the higher and lower end of the income spectrum, it is not clear whether urban/nonurban distinctions fade as income goes up.  Based on this data, I would guess that residents of well-off city neighborhoods are probably as happy with their city as suburbanites, while residents of poorer neighborhoods are not. 

*Data on education by county is available here.  For example, New York's major suburban counties, Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester Counties, have a higher proportion of college graduates (between 27 a nd 40 percent) than all but one of New York City's boroughs. 





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