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The Thriving States of America

A new Gallup poll charts levels of "thriving" across U.S. states.

Hugh Gentry / Reuters

Hawaii is the most "thriving" state, while residents of Louisiana and Georgia have the greatest optimism for the future, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this week. 

The survey, part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, asks:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now?

On this scale, just over half of the adults surveyed ranked their lives as 7 or higher, "thriving range" according to Gallup. The map below (via Gallup) charts the pattern across the U.S. states.

Map courtesy of Gallup

The top ten thriving states are: Hawaii (61.9 percent of surveyed residents are thriving), Utah (59.3), South Dakota (58.3), Maryland (58.0), Texas (56.8), New Hampshire (56.4), Nebraska (56.3), New Mexico (56.2), Colorado (56.2), and Minnesota (56.1). But even the highest ranking state — Hawaii — still has nearly 40 percent of surveyed residents that fall below the thriving scale.

The Plains/Midwest has the greatest concentration of thriving states than any other U.S. region. The West has the least amount of thriving states. 

South Dakota saw the largest gains from last year's survey, with a 6.4 percent increase. Alaska, conversely, saw a 10.3 percent decline.

Residents in Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Hawaii showed the greatest jump in expected improvement on the scale in 5 years. Wyoming, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Vermont reported the least in expected improvement.

With the help of my colleague, Charlotta Mellander, I took a close look at some of the key state economic and demographic factors that might correlate with these rankings.  As usual, I point out that correlation does not imply causality and other factors may come into play. Still, several interesting results stand out.

Thriving is connected to the wealth of states.  There is a modest correlation between thriving and income at the state level (0.35). This is in line with recent studies of happiness and well-being which show a relationship between income and happiness at a national level.

Thriving states also have higher share of college grads (0.41 correlation). The scattergraph above plots the pattern. This is sync with my own research with Mellander and Cambridge University psychologist Jason Rentfrow.

Not surprisingly, jobs — or the job market — matters: thriving is lower in states with higher levels of unemployment (with a correlation of -0.45).

Interestingly, thriving is related to how people in different states perceive their economic future (also from Gallup surveys). Thriving at the state level is positively associated with the perception that current economic conditions are "good" and that the economy overall is "getting better" and negatively so with the perception that current economic conditions are "bad" and the economy overall is " getting worse."

Thriving at the state level is not significantly related to inequality, political ideology or affiliation or religion, according to our analysis.

Top image: Hugh Gentry / Reuters

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Midwest had the greatest concentration of "thriving" states. This concentration, in fact, spans parts of both the Midwest and the Great Plains.

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