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Why College Towns Are Happy Towns

According to new data from Gallup, university towns are the happiest metro areas in the country.


College towns top the list on the latest metro-level rankings on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, takes the top spot, followed by Charlottesville, Virginia, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Provo-Orem, Utah, and Boulder, Colorado.

College towns have relatively high incomes and high levels of college grads and of creative, professional, and technical workers -  factors which are closely associated with happiness and well-being at the metro level, according to research I have conducted with Jason Rentfrow and Charlotta Mellander.

The table above shows the top 10 metros on the Gallup well-being rankings which cover 190 U.S. metro areas. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is based on surveys of more than 350,000 adults and cover six areas of well-being: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities.

Among large metros, San Jose, Calif. (Silicon Valley) takes top spot (see the table above), followed by Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. These metros also have very high incomes and high levels of college grads and creative, technical and professional workers. The lowest levels of well-being are found in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, Detroit, Michigan, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Happiness defies broad geographic rubrics like Sunbelt and Frostbelt. Here, the contrast between Detroit and nearby Ann Arbor is striking. Ann Arbor's happiness levels and human capital more closely resemble  Boulder, Austin, and Silicon Valley than any Rust Belt city.

Creating high-performing knowledge based and creative clusters in the Frostbelt is not only possible, it is happening. The key issue is not location per se, but the capacity to mobilize local asets and institutions.

Top image: Courtesy of Flickr user abi.bhattachan

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