10 best states for raising childrenRichard Barrington
Good parenting is a big determinant of children's success, but it helps to have the support and resources of a good local environment.
To help parents get a feel for where they might expect to find the best locations for their families, MoneyRates.com has taken a quantitative approach to determine the best U.S. states for raising children. This study was first conducted in 2011, using four criteria. This year, we expanded the factors considered from four to seven in order to arrive an an updated list of the the ten best states for raising children.
Methodology determining the top 10 states
- Personal safety. Keeping children safe is a top priority, so MoneyRates.com included each state's violent crime rate as a factor in this study.
- Academics. The U.S. Department of Education uses National Assessment of Educational Progress tests to assess academic performance at a variety of grade levels. MoneyRates.com looked at average scores for math, reading and science at the eighth grade level to determine its ranking of states for childhood academic performance.
- General affordability. Any parent can tell you that children are expensive creatures, so living in an area with a reasonable cost of living is a plus. Using data from the Council for Community and Economic research, MoneyRates.com calculated and ranked the cost of living for each state, and then ranked them according to affordability.
- College affordability. Living in a state with affordable tuition for in-state students can give parents a leg up on paying for college, so MoneyRates.com used data from the College Board to determine the 4-year college costs in each state.
- Access to youth/student checking accounts. (New)Given its focus on the banking industry, MoneyRates.com felt it was appropriate to add a banking element to this survey, and student bank accounts can be an excellent way to teach children some basics for managing finances. Student checking accounts typically have characteristics such as low minimums and low (or no) monthly maintenance fees, which help make these accounts accessible to young people with low balances.
- Health. (New)The overall health of children is a function of environmental conditions and access to health care, and to capture this factor MoneyRates.com used data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH), accessed via the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.
- Access to neighborhood amenities. (New)Also using NSCH data, MoneyRates.com ranked states according to the percentage of children who live in neighborhoods with kid-friendly amenities such as safe walking areas, parks, recreation centers, and libraries.
Each state was ranked according to these seven categories, and then the average rankings across all categories were used to determine the overall ranking. Based on this analysis, what follows are the ten best states for raising children.
NO. 1: Utah
Utah was better than average in all seven categories, ranking among the top ten in five out of seven. So, it's easy to see how it ranked number one overall. Particular strengths include its top ranking for access to kid-friendly neighborhood amenities, and a third-place ranking for college affordability. Besides these practical considerations, your kids might enjoy Salt Lake City's Discovery Gateway children's museum, as well as the city's natural history museum and planetarium.
NO. 2: Idaho
Idaho was below average in only one of seven categories (access to kid-friendly neighborhood amenities) but scored in the top ten for both college affordability and safety from violent crime. Idaho features many opportunities for outdoor activities, but in the Boise area you can also find attractions such as a zoo, a warplane museum, and a scientific Discovery Center.
NO. 3: Iowa (tie)
Even after ranking seven different categories, Iowa and and Wyoming wound up in a tie for second. Iowa's strongest point was a tenth place finish in childhood health, but it was above average in all seven categories so that consistency is what pulled it up into a tie for third. Ames, IA features several indoor facilities that allow kids to stay active year-round, including everything from laser tag to trampoline centers to climbing gyms.
NO. 4: Wyoming (tie)
Wyoming has the most affordable public 4-year colleges in the nation, something many parents would welcome. Wyoming also ranks third in safety from violent crime, though it is below-average for access to student banking accounts and kid-friendly neighborhood amenities. The state is rich in the traditions of the old west, and a variety of attractions in the capitol city of Cheyenne celebrate this.
NO. 5: Colorado
Colorado placed second for access to kid-friendly neighborhood facilities, and third for the availability of student bank accounts. On the down side, Colorado's public colleges are more expensive than those of most states, so if you choose to live there, start those 529 plans for college saving early! In terms of fun things for kids, Denver is a great city for young sports fans because it is home to major-league baseball, basketball, football and hockey teams.
NO. 6: North Dakota
One of the more attention-getting facts about North Dakota as a place to raise kids is that it earned a top-ten ranking for academic performance. It also ranked in the top ten for childhood health, something that is also of great importance to parents. It does not offer a wide variety of choices for student banking accounts, which is likely to be a common problem in less densely-populated states, though online banking may be a solution. Kids growing up in North Dakota can learn about their state's pioneer traditions by visiting Fargo's Bonanzaville USA, a village of historic buildings and artifacts.
NO. 7: Minnesota
The most outstanding attribute Minnesota had in this study is that it ranked fourth nationally for academic performance. It's also in the top-ten for child-friendly neighborhood facilities. Minnesota's biggest downfall is that its public colleges are more expensive than in most states, so saving for college is an especially important part of raising children in this state. On a more pleasant note, Minneapolis-St. Paul is host to teams in all four major U.S. sports.
NO. 8: New Jersey
New Jersey stands out from the other states on this list in both geography and its more urban nature. So how did it make the top ten? New Jersey was one of the ten best states for academic performance, access to student banking accounts, and neighborhood amenities. Those student bank accounts may come in handy, since New Jersey has some of the most expensive public colleges in the nation. Your children may be more interested to know that Jackson, New Jersey is home to a Six Flags amusement park.
NO. 9: Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a top-ten state for academic performance, which went a long way toward landing it in the top ten overall. The state didn't really shine in any other category, but nor did it stumble badly. As for what to do for fun, families that like water parks may be interested to know that the town of Wisconsin Dells has the greatest concentration of indoor and outdoor water parks in the world.
NO. 10: South Dakota
This is a top ten state for childhood health. It's weakest point was ranking 30th for access to student bank accounts, which is just a bit below median. The state has a rich frontier history, which is an opportunity to combine learning with fun through activities like riding the 19th century train through South Dakota's old mining areas between Hill City and Keystone.
Naturally, the best state for raising your children also comes down to proximity to extended family, climate and more, but with such a varied list you have plenty to choose from if you want to live in one of these top ten states.