September 29, 2023 8:33 pm
September 29, 2023 8:33 pm

Cities with the most attractive lifestyles

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In the previous article, I analyzed how income and degree days account for most of the variation in prices across US metropolitan areas. In this article, I will extend that analysis by incorporating economic growth, a modified degree day measure, and affordability to identify the US cities that offer the most desirable lifestyles. I will use data from various sources to compare and rank different aspects of quality of life, such as climate, cost of living, income, and amenities. My goal is to provide a comprehensive and objective framework for evaluating the attractiveness of different locations in the US.

Career Opportunities

Income is an important factor in achieving financial goals, such as financial independence or early retirement. All else being equal, a higher income allows for a higher savings rate and a faster accumulation of wealth. Cost of living differences are not only determined by the prices of groceries, utilities, or other goods and services, but also by the prices of housing. While housing might be twice the price in a HCOL area, other goods and services are unlikely to also be twice as expensive. Therefore, for someone who can afford the higher housing costs, saving 10% of a higher income in a can result in a much larger amount than saving 10% of a lower income in a lower-cost area. For example, 10% of $150,000 is $15,000, while 10% of $95,000 is $9,500. The difference of $5,500 can make a big difference in reaching financial goals sooner.

As the hub of the tech industry and a magnet for venture capital, It’s no surprise that the Bay Area comes out on top of the income ranking. That these cities have a per capita income of 45% (San Francisco) and 60% (San Jose) higher than NYC however is surprising. The rest of the top 10 are of course no slouches when it comes to income and they consist of the usual suspects of large coast cities with the exception of Denver.

Future Career Opportunities

Income growth may vary depending on whether you work remotely or in a hybrid mode. Remote work can be performed from any location, but it may also limit your career prospects and pay raises. This is because you may be perceived as less visible, communicative and committed than office workers. Hybrid work, which combines home and office work, may offer a better balance. You can still enjoy the social and professional benefits of the office, while also having more flexibility and control. Hybrid work may also help you improve your reputation and influence, which can boost your income growth. However, this also depends on your location and industry. Therefore, even with the increase in remote work, it is worth considering the income growth and job prospects of the local economy in order to maximize your future income.

The years of 2019-2021 for which income growth is measured are an interesting time for incomes. Especially as we entered 2021 there was a flurry of relocations as the rapid acceptance of remote work during the pandemic enabled people to take their salaries to cities where high paying opportunities might not have previously been available. You can see this growth in cities like Riverside, Orlando, and Memphis which land at the top of the income growth charts despite having not been centers of high incomes previously. The other notable inclusion is the Bay Area metros of San Jose and San Francisco topping the income growth list while also holding the crown for the highest incomes in the country. This combination of the highest incomes in the country growing at the fastest rate in the nation is a testament to the strength of tech in driving the future of the economy.


Modified Degree Days – Degree days are a relevant factor in analyzing the variation of housing prices across metropolitan areas, but they do not capture the asymmetry between cold and hot weather preferences. Cold weather poses a significant risk only when the average temperature falls substantially below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and it can be easily mitigated by wearing appropriate clothing. Hot weather, however, imposes a higher discomfort and health hazard, and it cannot be alleviated by simply removing clothing. Therefore, I assigned 50% more weight to cooling degree days compared to heating degree days in my analysis.

Again, the Bay Area is well represented at the second and fourth spots in the degree days ranking. In fact, the first 8 of the top 10 cities are located on the West Coast! The mild weather of the West Coast really cannot be understated in this metric. I’ve tried to live through summers in places as far north as Wisconsin and doing so is uncomfortable at best. In comparison, my AC rarely kicks on even in the hotter inland valleys in the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco. This is true up and down the coast as the cool Pacific Ocean moderates cities along the coast. The only reason that the West Coast couldn’t take any more of the top spots is because only 8 of the 50 largest metros in the US are located on the West Coast!


Affordability is a key factor in choosing where to live, as housing costs are the biggest expense for most Americans. Housing that is more affordable relative to the average income means that less money is spent on rent or mortgage, and more money is available for other needs and wants. While increasing one’s income is usually a better strategy than cutting down on expenses, affordability can have an outsized effect on quality of life. Therefore, it is important to consider how affordable housing is in relation to the income level and the cost of living in different areas.

The top contenders for affordability represent an entirely new set of entrants that we didn’t see in any of the previous factors. The only city in affordability that makes a top 10 appearance in another category is Memphis which appears at #8 in the income growth category. While these cities may not offer the highest incomes or the most desirable weather, they do offer a high quality of life through their affordability. Cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Indianapolis offer salaries around the US average without correspondingly higher housing prices. One notable city finishing just outside the top 10 is Chicago which comes in at the 11th most affordable metro while boasting the 12th highest incomes in the US!

Future Extreme Heat Risk

Climate change is expected to impact various aspects of the environment, such as wildfires, sea level rise, crop yields, temperatures and drought. However, this analysis focuses only on the risk of extreme heat using the data found in this Pro Publica study to inform the column for extreme heat days found in the rightmost column of the table below. While the other risks in that study are worthwhile to consider, they can be avoided by selecting sites within a metro area that mitigates those risks. For example, wildfire risk is more relevant for rural areas than urban ones, so a home buyer could focus their search on homes well within the urban boundary of the city with defensible areas and strong emergency fire services. Similarly, flooding and sea level rise be avoided by informed buyers choosing properties on hillsides or other areas with lower risk. The one factor that is hard to escape by relocating within a city, however, is heat. For most cities, wide temperature ranges across their suburbs and exurbs are not present and heat is simply inevitable. The San Francisco Bay Area is a notable exception to this trend in that temperatures can vary by 30 degrees Fahrenheit or more from the ocean side neighborhoods to the exurbs in the inland valleys.

Composite Ranking

Looking at each of the factors simultaneously it seems worthwhile to consider a career in California. Affordability is a major consideration, but with a high paying career, the rewards in long term compensation and the amazing outdoor lifestyle are elements unmatched in other parts of the US. The most difficult part for me in making the decision to move to California was becoming comfortable with the risk. Moving away from a stable career and homeownership for an uncertain future in an expensive city risked losing the home equity my partner and I had worked so hard to build. One city on the East Coast that sticks out in the top 10 is Miami. Miami comes in at number 6 on the strength of its high and quickly rising incomes combined with relative affordability compared to cities on the West Coast. Despite the long and humid summers at least the New York transplants won’t have to shovel out their cars in the winter, instead they’ll likely be enjoying the perfectly comfortable winter days at the beach!

A composite ranking based on these criteria offers a comprehensive perspective on the quality of life in different cities. However, this list is not definitive. New York, for instance, is a world-class city with abundant opportunities and attractions for those who can afford it, despite its harsh weather for half of the year. Honolulu has an ideal tropical climate, but it did not make the cut because it is too small compared to the other 50 metro areas. A retiree who prefers to stay in the mainland US might opt for San Diego, while a ski enthusiast might choose Seattle, Salt Lake, Denver, or Sacramento for their proximity to the mountains.

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