It’s no secret that Americans work a lot. And if you’re an American parent, well, you probably have an even busier schedule. According to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, the average American works more than counterparts in other industrialized countries, including Japan, France, the UK and Germany.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Americans work 38.8 hours per week, and that’s an average of everyone’s who’s worked full- or part-time. Not to mention a commute of almost an hour (26.9 minutes each way)!
Over the past 10 years, average commuting times have consistently inched higher. These days, 17.6 percent of commuters now spend 45 minutes or more getting to or from work, according to the same Census data.
Despite increased hours on the job, longer commutes and steep living costs, wages have failed to keep pace. While nominal wages did increase from 2008 to 2018, inflation-adjusted wages are about the same as they were in 1978.
The result is that many Americans struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance, feeling overworked and stressed. Researchers correlate long hours with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Conversely, studies show that supportive family relationships relieve stress and promote healthy behaviors and wellbeing in children.
When it comes to keeping a healthy balance between your work life and your home life, location matters. Researchers at Fabric, a company creating financial products for families, analyzed data for the 275 largest American metro areas.
To find out which areas have the best work-life balance, Fabric looked for the fastest commutes, the shortest average work weeks and the highest cost-of-living-adjusted incomes. That’s a calculation factoring in geographic differences in the prices of goods and services, to give a sense of how far an income will really get you in a certain area.
Metropolitan areas in the Midwest and the West dominate the final list.
Overall score: 80.0
Median household income: $61,573
Median household income (adjusted): $67,663
Cost of living: 9% below average
Average time spent working: 37.9 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 21.7 minutes each way
The state capital of Illinois, Springfield offers workers a balance of favorable work hours and the lowest living costs on this list. For entertainment, the Springfield Park District boasts 41 parks, as well as Lake Springfield, the perfect destination for outdoor family activities such as hiking, biking, fishing and swimming. History buffs can tour Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Museum, while theater aficionados can enjoy indoor and outdoor performances or drive-in movies.
Overall score: 80.1
Median household income: $79,705
Median household income (adjusted): $63,866
Cost of living: 25% above average
Average time spent working: 35.8 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 28.3 minutes each way
Love the sun? This California metro enjoys 250 days of sunshine a year, which residents celebrate with a variety of outdoor activities ranging from surfing to sunbathing. Santa Cruz is located in the picturesque Monterey Bay. Here, families can visit the National Marine Sanctuary to learn more about the plants and wildlife that inhabit the Pacific coast.
Santa Cruz has the highest cost of living on this list, at 25 percent above average, but that’s partially offset by high incomes. Santa Cruz residents work an average of 35.8 hours per week, well below the national average of 38.8 hours.
Overall score: 80.9
Median household income: $61,943
Median household income (adjusted): $67,476
Cost of living: 8% below average
Average time spent working: 37.8 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 21.4 minutes each way
Located northwest of the Twin Cities, the St. Cloud metro area has a Midwestern flair (including that small-town feel and cold winters). Walking trails, numerous theaters and proximity to the Mississippi River provide families with plenty to do—rain or shine. The low cost of living, which appeals to families, has contributed to population and economic growth in recent years. Since the metropolitan area is spread out, residents generally need a car to get around.
Overall score: 82.0
Median household income: $60,888
Median household income (adjusted): $63,624
Cost of living: 4% below average
Average time spent working: 36.5 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 20.6 minutes each way
Iowa City is a Midwestern hub of culture and education. The University of Iowa hosts the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, and in 2008 Iowa City became the third city in the world to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature. The Iowa River flows through the city and offers opportunities for water sports during its hot summers. The cost of living in Iowa City is slightly below average, and workers only work an average of 36.5 hours per week.
Overall score: 82.3
Median household income: $71,106
Median household income (adjusted): $64,937
Cost of living: 10% above average
Average time spent working: 37.1 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 19.5 minutes each way
The Santa Maria-Santa Barbara metro area sits in the heart of California’s Central Coast Wine Country. As such, much of the local economy centers around agriculture and wine. The region has been nicknamed “The American Riviera” for its Mediterranean climate and stunning coastline. The proximity to beaches is great for families that enjoy spending time outside.
The average commute time is only 19.5 minutes, one of the fastest times on this list. Like most coastal areas, Santa Maria-Santa Barbara has a higher average cost of living than the U.S. overall, but also a higher median income.
Overall score: 83.1
Median household income: $71,510
Median household income (adjusted): $71,942
Cost of living: 1% below average
Average time spent working: 38 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 22.6 minutes each way
Salt Lake City is ideal for people who love the great outdoors. The area surrounding Salt Lake City boasts five national parks, multiple ski resorts and more than 400 miles of mountain biking trails. There’s plenty for kids to do, including the Discovery Gateway Museum, aviaries and zoos, city parks and the Clark Planetarium.
The cost of living in Salt Lake City hovers around the national average, while the median household income of $71,510 sits higher than the national median of $60,336. Meaning that families who live here may come out ahead! Employees in Salt Lake City work an average of 38 hours per week, just slightly less than the national average.
Overall score: 83.6
Median household income: $66,273
Median household income (adjusted): $66,942
Cost of living: 1% below average
Average time spent working: 37.5 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 19.8 minutes each way
Move over, Portland! The cities of Bend and Redmond are two Oregonian destinations that are perfect to visit and to live. Natural landmarks such as the Deschutes River Trail and Mount Bachelor offer plenty of options for outdoor recreation. Bend-Redmond sits far away from most major cities like Salem and Portland, providing residents with a haven from the hustle and bustle.
The cost of living is around the U.S. average, while median incomes are slightly higher. Residents work an average of 37.5 hours per week, but enjoy short commute times at an average of 19.8 minutes each way.
Overall score: 84.1
Median household income: $71,301
Median household income (adjusted): $72,980
Cost of living: 2% below average
Average time spent working: 38.1 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 22 minutes each way
Madison is home to four lakes, including Lake Mendota. That means ample opportunities for recreational activities such as kayaking, fishing, swimming and ice skating. For those who don’t enjoy water sports, the 1,200-acre UW-Madison Arboretum and the Lakeshore Nature Preserve provide other options. Madison residents work an average of 38.1 hours per week.
Overall score: 84.9
Median household income: $70,286
Median household income (adjusted): $69,043
Cost of living: 2% above average
Average time spent working: 37.1 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 24 minutes each way
Ann Arbor is the seat for the University of Michigan’s flagship campus, giving it a youthful feel. Young alumni and their families often settle in the area post-graduation, making it family friendly. College football games, art fairs, outdoor concerts and local parks offer plenty to do outdoors.
Meanwhile, public libraries with extensive children’s collections offer a haven for families in the winter. Ann Arbor is also highly educated; 74.2 percent of adults in Ann Arbor have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 30.9 percent in the country as a whole. Ann Arbor residents work an average of 37.1 hours per week.
Overall score: 86.0
Median household income: $63,353
Median household income (adjusted): $68,416
Cost of living: 7% below average
Average time spent working: 38.1 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 16.7 minutes each way
The largest population center in North Dakota, Fargo shares a border with Minnesota and the neighboring city of Moorhead. Historically, agriculture drove Fargo’s economy, but industries such as education, healthcare and technology now command a strong presence.
Fargo has a dedicated children’s museum, zoos and a growing arts scene, offering year-round entertainment. Fargo offers a below-average cost of living, and residents work an average of 38.1 hours per week. Fargo also has the shortest commute time on this list, at 16.7 minutes each way.
Overall score: 88.0
Median household income: $71,880
Median household income (adjusted): $67,115
Cost of living: 7% above average
Average time spent working: 36.3 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 21.5 minutes each way
Known by its acronym “SLO,” San Luis Obispo lives up to the name due to its laidback lifestyle. The rich farmland that surrounds SLO provides residents with fine California wine as well as some of the country’s freshest produce sold at local farmers markets.
Families living here can take advantage of ocean access at Pismo Beach, hiking trails at Bishop’s Peak, and the area’s many movie theaters and museums during their free time. The cost of living in San Luis Obispo is 7 percent higher than the national average, but residents only work an average of 36.3 hours per week.
Overall score: 90.7
Median household income: $71,629
Median household income (adjusted): $75,320
Cost of living: 5% below average
Average time spent working: 37.3 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 22.7 minutes each way
Forty miles north of Salt Lake City, the Ogden-Clearfield metropolitan area offers families a spread-out, suburban atmosphere with the amenities of a large city. Mountains and ski resorts surround Ogden-Clearfield, making it ideal if you like to decompress outdoors.
In addition, the Ogden River Parkway, the Eccles Dinosaur Park and the Ogden Nature Center entice regular visitors. At $75,320, Ogden has the highest adjusted median household income on this list, though residents only work an average of 37.3 hours per week.
Overall score: 92.4
Median household income: $65,936
Median household income (adjusted): $70,294
Cost of living: 6% below average
Average time spent working: 36.9 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 18.2 minutes each way
With short commutes and a lower-than-average cost of living, Bloomington is an excellent choice for families looking to balance their work life and home life. Bloomington offers more than 40 parks for outdoor recreation, as well as performance venues such as the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, U.S. Cellular Coliseum and Redbird Arena. Families can enjoy trips to Grady’s Family Fun Park, indoor ice rinks, the zoo and the Children's Discovery Museum in the nearby city of Normal.
Overall score: 93.1
Median household income: $80,834
Median household income (adjusted): $74,228
Cost of living: 9% above average
Average time spent working: 36.6 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 23.7 minutes each way
Boulder offers a sunny climate and a variety of outdoor activities. Residents enjoy hiking on Green Mountain and bike riding on Boulder’s extensive trail network. Many in Boulder are concerned about the environment, so farm-to-table restaurants, vegan/vegetarian dining and recycling facilities are easy to find.
Overall score: 96.4
Median household income: $70,196
Median household income (adjusted): $72,517
Cost of living: 3% below average
Average time spent working: 35.2 hours per week
Average time spent commuting: 22.3 minutes each way
In recent years, Provo-Orem has become a hub for technology companies and startups, especially in the Riverwoods business district. Provo hosts Brigham Young University, which gives it a college town atmosphere. Orem, on the other hand, is a more family-oriented community.
Film festivals, cultural celebrations and hiking trails provide plenty to do in the evenings and on weekends. Compared to the other areas on this list, Provo-Orem has the lowest average time spent working, at 35.2 hours per week, and offers a high adjusted median income.
Data on median household income, average hours worked per week and average commute times are from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Data on cost-of-living is from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Regional Price Parities, May 2018 release.
To identify the metropolitan areas whose residents have the best work-life balance, a composite score was calculated based on the following factors:
Cost of living
Time spent working
Time spent commuting
Median household incomes were adjusted for cost-of-living differences using the corresponding regional price parities. The resulting statistic was weighted equally against the total amount of time residents spent per week working and commuting.
Only metropolitan areas with populations exceeding 150,000 were considered in the analysis.
Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
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