The Best Cities for Young Professionals for Work-Life Balance

The Best Cities for Young Professionals for Work-Life Balance was originally published on Forage.

coworkers walking on city street and chatting

Work-life balance is top of mind for many young professionals. According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, Generation Z workers ranked caring about employees’ well-being as a priority when evaluating potential employers. Moreover, 42% of Gen Z employees would quit their job if they were experiencing burnout and a lack of work-life balance, according to a 2022 survey from TalentLMS and BambooHR.

But what are the best cities for young professionals for work-life balance? We scored hundreds of U.S. cities across 10 criteria to find out. In this report, we cover:

Methodology: How We Ranked the Cities

Using 2021 U.S. Census Bureau data, we identified over four hundred U.S. cities in counties with populations greater than 300,000 people (n=415). We then scored and ranked these cities based on 10 factors likely to influence the work-life balance of recent graduates and young professionals.

The factors speak to the potential for financial security, mental and physical well-being, and social interaction. They include:

We normalized these factors by converting them to percentiles. We then averaged these normalized scores to get an overall score for each city. Note that for some factors, a higher value is better, while for others, a lower value is better. We took these different directions into account when computing the score for each city.

For the average number of mentally unhealthy days and the number of arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita, we used data available at the county level as a proxy for values at the place (city) level. For places that span multiple counties, we aggregated the values across counties to approximate place-level values.

The Best Cities for Young Professionals for Work-Life Balance

1. Madison, Wisconsin

  • Average commute time: 18.7 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 36.6
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 47.5%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 5.4%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.77
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 24%
  • Walkability score: 49.7
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 95%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 5.89 per ten thousand people

Madison, Wisconsin earned the No. 1 spot for best city for young professionals for work-life balance. The average number of hours worked in Madison (36.6) scored in the eighth percentile across all cities we examined. The city’s low average commute time of 18.7 minutes and its low unemployment rate of 3.2% also helped it to score highly in our rankings. Madison is also in the 97th percentile for percentage of the population between 20 and 29 years old, with 24% of the population falling in that age range.

2. Lincoln, Nebraska

  • Average commute time: 18.4 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 37.1
  • Unemployment rate: 2.8%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 46.1%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 6.3%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.62
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 19.6%
  • Walkability score: 44.1
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 91%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 4.34 per ten thousand people

Lincoln, Nebraska holds the No. 2 spot in our ranking. It has an extremely low average commute time of 18.4 minutes and a very low unemployment rate (2.8%). Though its walk score of 44.1 and arts establishments per ten thousand people of 4.34 are middle-of-the-pack, it scores in the 92nd percentile for percentage of the population between 20 and 29 years old (19.6%) and the 10th percentile for average number of mentally unhealthy days per month (3.62).

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3. Boulder, Colorado

  • Average commute time: 19.1 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 33.3
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 58.8%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 5.2%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.71
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 29.3%
  • Walkability score: 56.0
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 93%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 9.5 per ten thousand people

Boulder, Colorado scored highly in several categories. It has a lower average number of hours worked per week than over 99% of the places we examined at 33.3 hours per week. It is also in the 99th percentile for percentage of the population between 20 and 29 years old, with 29.3% of the population in that age range. Additionally, 93% of its population lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. Boulder’s average commute time of 19.1 minutes is also quite low compared to the other places we examined.

However, 58.8% of renters in Boulder spend over 30% of their income on rent, which could be a financial hurdle for young professionals living in the city.

4. St. Paul, Minnesota

  • Average commute time: 21 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 36.9
  • Unemployment rate: 6.3%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 44%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 6.7%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.74
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 17%
  • Walkability score: 60.4
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 99%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 5.1 per ten thousand people

A whopping 99% of people in St. Paul, Minnesota live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The city also has relatively low average hours worked per week (36.9) and average poor mental health days per month (3.74). Additionally, 17% of the population of St. Paul are between 20 and 29 years old, placing the city in the 85th percentile for that measure. The city also has a high walk score of 60.4 and relatively low commute time.

5. Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Average commute time: 25.2 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.9 
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 40.9%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 1.1%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 4.01
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 30.9%
  • Walkability score: 90.0
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 98%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 5.08 per ten thousand people

Only 1.1% of employed people in Cambridge, Massachusetts do not have health insurance. Cambridge is in the 99th percentile for both percentage of its population between 20 and 29 years old (30.9%) and walkability score (90.0). In addition, 98% of the population of Cambridge lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. However, its 25.2 minute average commute and average hours worked per week of 38.9 are higher than more than half of the places we examined.

6. Minneapolis, Minnesota

  • Average commute time: 22.1 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 36.9
  • Unemployment rate: 8.4%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 48.2%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 6.3%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.53
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 21.2%
  • Walkability score: 71.4
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 98%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 6.19 per ten thousand people

Minneapolis, Minnesota, twin city to No. 4-ranked St. Paul, earned the sixth spot in our ranking. Its average poor mental health days of 3.53 days per month is lower than 96% of the places we examined. It’s also in the 97th percentile for percentage of the population within a 10-minute walk of a park (98%).

On the other hand, Minneapolis’s unemployment rate of 8.4% is the highest of the top-scoring cities in our overall ranking. Plus, 48.2% of renters in Minneapolis spend more than 30% of their income on rent, a portion of renters that is higher than 35% of places we examined.

7. Waukesha, Wisconsin

  • Average commute time: 20.1 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.2
  • Unemployment rate: 2.2%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 40.5%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 7.2%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.72
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 18.6%
  • Walkability score: 35.0
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 84%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 6.34 per ten thousand people

Waukesha, Wisconsin has a lower unemployment rate (2.2%) than 98% of the places we examined. Only 40.5% of its renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent. It also has a lower average commute time (20.1 minutes) than 91.4% of places in our dataset.

Waukesha falls behind some of the other cities in our ranking in terms of average hours worked per week (38.2). Its walk score of 35.0 is much lower than the walk scores of all of the other cities at the top of our ranking.

8. Seattle, Washington

  • Average commute time: 26.3 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.7
  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 44.8%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 3.8%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 3.69
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 21.0%
  • Walkability score: 74.4
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 99%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 5.99 per ten thousand people

A full 99% of Seattle, Washington residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. It also has a high walk score of 74.4 and a high percentage of its population between 20 and 29 years old (21%). Seattle residents have relatively few poor mental health days per month, with an average of 3.69.

In terms of downsides, Seattle’s average commute time of 26.3 minutes puts it in the 58th percentile for that stat. It’s in the 62nd percentile for average hours worked per week (38.7).

9. Evanston, Illinois

  • Average commute time: 24.0 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 36.2
  • Unemployment rate: 6.6%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 46.8%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 4.4%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 4.02
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 17.3%
  • Walkability score: 76.0
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 99%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 4.16 per ten thousand people

People who live in Evanston, Illinois work an average of 36.2 hours per week, which is fewer than 95% of the places we examined. Plus, 99% of its residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and its walk score of 76 is higher than the walk scores of 96% of places we examined.

Evanston’s arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita is lower than 53% of places in our dataset. Its unemployment rate of 6.6% is also middle-of-the-pack compared to the rest of the top cities.

10. Somerville, Massachusetts

  • Average commute time: 29.8 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 40.0
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%
  • Percentage of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent: 33%
  • Percentage of employed people without health insurance: 1.4%
  • Average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days: 4.01
  • Percentage of population between 20-29 years old: 27%
  • Walkability score: 89.0
  • Percentage of population within a 10-minute walk of a park: 100%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per capita: 5.08 per ten thousand people

Somerville, Massachusetts is one of only four cities in our entire dataset where 100% of the population lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. The other three are San Francisco, California; Mount Vernon, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts, none of which appear in our top 10 best cities for young professionals for work-life balance. Somerville also stands out for its low percentage of renters who spend more than 30% of their income on rent (33%) and its low percentage of employed people without health insurance (1.4%). Somerville has lower percentages for those measures than 98% of places in our dataset.

However, Somerville has a longer average commute (29.8 minutes) than 82% of places in our dataset. People in Somerville work an average of 40 hours per week, a value that’s higher than 92% of all the places we examined.

Finding the Best City for Your Work-Life Balance

If you’re about to graduate from college, you might be considering a move to a new city. In fact, two-thirds of the class of 2023 say they are willing to relocate for the right job, according to Handshake’s 2023 Network Trends Report.

But how can you determine whether a particular city is a fit for you?

It depends on personal hobbies and interests, says Amy Stoldt, vice president of people and culture at Snappy Gifts.

“Some things to consider include: Do you enjoy spending time in nature or a big city? Do you prefer warm weather or cold weather? Does the city offer cultural opportunities that you are interested in, such as theater or music?” Stoldt adds.

Research rent costs and whether the prospective place has a lot of opportunities for career growth in your field.

Also, “make sure you’re excited about the location,” Stoldt adds. “Life shouldn’t just be about work. Make sure you’re moving to a location you’ll enjoy spending time outside the office.”

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Update: The methodology has been corrected to reflect that the list captures cities in counties with populations greater than 300,000, rather than cities with populations greater than 300,000 themselves.

Image credit: Depositphotos.com

The post The Best Cities for Young Professionals for Work-Life Balance appeared first on Forage.

By Jenna Bellassai - Forage
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