Americans often evaluate their home states according to such subjective conditions as climate preference, the presence of friends and family, and personal history. In addition to these subjective measures, more objective socioeconomic factors also contribute to life satisfaction. It is such quantitative measures that can help assess the broader quality of life in a given state.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed three statewide social and economic measures — poverty rate, educational attainment, and life expectancy at birth — to rank each state’s living conditions. Socioeconomic outcomes vary greatly between states.
Massachusetts, home to one of the nation’s wealthiest and most highly educated populations, leads the nation in quality of life. Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, trails the other 49 states.
While satisfactory living conditions are possible with low incomes, this is true only to a point. Once incomes fall below the poverty line, for example, financial constraints are far more likely to diminish quality of life. New Mexico and Mississippi report poverty rates of over 20%.
> 10-yr. population growth: 13.6% (20th highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 4.8% (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 16.7% (10th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 76.1 years (8th lowest)
Tennessee has one of the worst violent crime rates in the nation. There were more than 600 violent incidents reported per 100,000 residents last year, much higher than the national rate of 373 incidents per 100,000 Americans. The state also has among the highest poverty rates and lowest incomes in the country.
Living in conditions of poverty or in areas with high crime has been shown to have harmful effects on residents’ mental and physical well-being. This appears to have been a factor in Tennessee, where 22.9% of adults report being in less than optimal, the third highest proportion in the country and well above the national proportion of 14% of adults reporting such poor health.
Education levels are another major contributor to a community’s living conditions — not just as a basis of economic prosperity, but also as a component of an individual’s quality of life. Due in part to the greater access to high paying jobs that often require a college degree, incomes also tend to be higher in these states. In all of the 15 best states in which to live, the typical household earns more than the national median household income of $55,775.
Many of these strong socioeconomic measures lead to better living conditions, which in turn help lead healthier and longer lives — also used in ranking states. The difference in life expectancy between Mississippi, where people tend to live the shortest lives, and Massachusetts, is 5.6 years. The likelihood of living a relatively long life as a resident of a particular state is closely associated with that state’s living conditions.
Housing markets are also indicative of quality of living. A high median home value, for instance, frequently means high demand for housing in the area. Nationwide, the typical home is worth $194,500. In most of the 25 top states, the median home value far exceeds the nationwide median.
Lower home values are indicative of and contribute to relatively affordable costs of living. Of course, low home values are also a product of a lack of demand in a housing market, which is often driven by poor living conditions. The average cost of goods and services in most of the best states to live is greater than the national average, while the average cost of living in all of the 25 states on the lower end of our list is less than the national average.
To identify the best and worst states in which to live, 24/7 Wall St. devised an index composed of three socioeconomic measures for each state: poverty rate, the percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree, and life expectancy at birth. The selection of these three measures was inspired by the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Poverty rates and bachelor attainment rates came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. Life expectancies at birth are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are as of 2012, latest year for which data is available. Unemployment rates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and are for October 2016, the most recent available month of data.