Utah dominates our 2016 ranking of the best cities for raising a family, claiming three of the top 15 spots. Low crime, quality schools and a youthful population earned the Provo-Orem metro area the top spot. Provo not a fit for your brood? House hunters need only drive 80 miles north to visit Ogden, which came in a close second. Along the way they can stop in Salt Lake City, which tied for 15th.
To compile our list we evaluated America’s 100 largest metro areas on:
- median household income (data from the Census Bureau)
- the percentage of owner-occupied households (also Census)
- percent of population under 18 (Census again)
- average commuting delays (Texas Transportation Institute)
- violent crime rates per 100,000 inhabitants (FBI)
- local school quality (greatschools.org)
- cost of childcare by state (the percentage of income an average two parent family spends on child care for two school age kids-Childcare Aware)
We also considered cost of living (as indexed by the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness) and housing affordability (the percentage of homes in the area affordable to those making the local median income from the National Association of Home Builders), but could not officially factor these into our ranking because of missing data for some metro areas. We avoided subjective items you might find on other lists of this sort, in favor of a logical, objective set of criteria to measure family friendliness.
The Provo-Orem metro area is located in Northeast Utah, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake. It has 585,800 residents, 33% of whom are under 18, making it the youngest place on our list. A respectable 68% of households are owner-occupied (versus renter occupied, implying stability) and auto commuters suffer through just 21 hours of traffic delays per year (compare that to 82 hours for Washington, D.C., area commuters, the worst delays in the country).
The median household income in Provo-Oren is $60,647, which ranks it among the top third of large metro areas but is near the bottom of the pack for our top family cities. By our calculations, the biggest drawback of raising a family in Provo-Orem is that NAHB finds just 67.6% of homes in the area are affordable to those making the local median income, putting it in the bottom half of large metro areas on housing affordability.
These relative strengths, of course, do not mean Provo-Orem is the best place for you and yours. Taste, proximity to loved ones and opportunity will inevitably factor into your own calculations. Gallup, for example, has rated Provo-Orem the most religious metro in America with 77% of residents considered very religious. Some will argue this is why Provo-Orem gets top marks in so many metrics, while others will be turned off by it.
It also bears noting that a few of the metro areas on our list such as Honolulu, Hawaii and San Jose, California are notoriously expensive. It’s true, Honolulu comes in dead last among the large metro areas CREC has cost of living data for. San Jose did not provide CREC with cost of living info, but nearby San Francisco can claim a lower cost of living than only Honolulu and New York City. High costs are somewhat balanced by high incomes in these areas. San Jose has the highest median household income in the country ($92,960) and Honolulu ranks in the top ten ($73,581). Nevertheless, if you are not in a position to earn a salary commensurate with the costs you may want to look elsewhere.