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Best Cities for Work-Life Balance

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by on August 5, 2014

Americans spend more time at the office than most workers in other countries. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, people in the U.S. work an average of 1,790 hours a year—that’s over 300 hours more than employees in France, where workers put in about 1,479 hours a year. Additionally, 11% of employees in the U.S. work more than 50 hours a week.

Workers who seek a healthy work-life balance can reduce stress and improve the quality of their lives. With this in mind, NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best cities for work-life balance by analyzing the following factors in 536 cities across the U.S.:

1.    Weekly hours worked: We included the mean hours worked per week by an average worker in each city.

2.    Commute time: We included the mean travel time to work to account for daily commute time.

3.    Income and cost of living: We factored in median earnings for full-time, year-round workers as well as median rent in each city to gauge how much people are earning on average.

For more information on affordability in each of these places, check out NerdWallet’s cost of living calculator. For similar studies and more, visit NerdWallet Cities.

1.    Bloomington, Indiana

Bloomington, where the population has grown more than 33% since 1990, ranks at the top of this list thanks to a low number of average weekly hours worked as well as a shorter average commute. The city is home to Indiana University Bloomington, the largest university in the state and the top employer in the region. With their work-life balance, Bloomington’s workers can enjoy outdoor recreation such as hiking, fishing and boating, as well as all of the museums, theaters and festivals the city has to offer.

2.    Provo, Utah

Employees in Provo enjoy a tremendous work-life balance — the 30.9 average weekly hours worked per person is the lowest of all 536 cities in our study. Brigham Young University, the third-largest private university in the country, is located in Provo and is among its top employers. The city’s landmarks and attractions include the Covey Center for the Arts, a 42,000-square-foot performing arts center that features a variety of entertainment throughout the year.

3.    Gainesville, Florida

The average employee in Gainesville works just 32.5 hours a week, a much lower number of hours spent at the office than most of the country’s population. Major employers include University of Florida Health and the University of Florida, the eighth-largest university in the U.S. When they’re not working, residents in Gainesville head to major annual events such as the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival, several museums and Florida Gators football games.

4.    Eau Claire, Wisconsin

In addition to a workweek with fewer hours, Eau Claire residents spend less time commuting and also enjoy a relatively low cost of living — the median monthly rent in the city is just $704. Major employers include the headquarters of the home improvement chain Menards, along with the local school district, regional hospitals and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. In this area, residents spend their free time at places like the Chippewa River State Trail and several large parks.

5.    Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The home of the University of Alabama is also a manufacturing, service and retail hub. Along with Tuscaloosa’s successful and diversified economy, people here enjoy a work-life balance where fans of the Crimson Tide can revel in the football culture, and others have the option to visit the city’s museums, performing arts centers and parks.

6.    Iowa City, Iowa

Iowa City’s residents work only 34.1 hours a week on average and spend just 17.2 minutes on their daily commute. As well, the city’s cost of living relative to average earnings for full-time workers is quite low. The largest employer here is the University of Iowa. The city’s rich literary culture and history earned it a “City of Literature” designation by UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational and cultural agency.

7.    College Station, Texas

A quintessential college town, College Station is home to Texas A&M University, one of the largest institutions for higher education in the nation. In their off time, workers in College Station can unwind at one of the 52 parks in the city.

8.    Eugene, Oregon

True to its slogan, Eugene is “a great city for the arts and outdoors.” Residents here take the time to get outside and hike and bike on scenic trails in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley. Top employers in Eugene include PeaceHealth Medical Group and the University of Oregon.

9.    Bellingham, Washington

Workers in Bellingham spend an average of 33.4 hours a week on the job, which gives them plenty of time to take advantage of the city’s proximity to the rugged North Cascades and the San Juan Islands.

10. Kalamazoo, Michigan

Kalamazoo is home to companies in pharmaceutical, life sciences and manufacturing industries. With a great work-life balance, workers here have plenty of time to enjoy the city’s benefits, such as local breweries and brewpubs.

Best Cities for Work-Life Balance

Rank City Mean weekly hours worked Mean travel time to work (minutes) Median earnings for full-time, year-round workers Median gross rent Overall score
1 Bloomington, Indiana 31.9 15.2 $35,908 $788 79.40
2 Provo, Utah 30.9 18.0 $32,418 $744 78.03
3 Gainesville, Florida 32.5 16.5 $35,099 $851 75.81
4 Eau Claire, Wisconsin 33.8 16.1 $35,061 $704 75.37
5 Tuscaloosa, Alabama 33.1 17.6 $32,274 $696 74.60
6 Iowa City, Iowa 34.1 17.2 $42,290 $785 73.92
7 College Station, Texas 33.9 17.1 $42,043 $834 73.82
8 Eugene, Oregon 34.0 17.0 $42,288 $831 73.82
9 Bellingham, Washington 33.4 17.5 $41,117 $866 73.82
10 Kalamazoo, Michigan 33.6 18.3 $32,557 $661 73.25
11 Missoula, Montana 35.7 15.2 $38,633 $718 73.10
12 Duluth, Minnesota 35.1 16.6 $37,657 $712 72.58
13 Lawrence, Kansas 33.5 19.2 $41,632 $799 72.53
14 Syracuse, New York 34.9 17.1 $36,002 $677 72.50
15 Muncie, Indiana 33.5 19.5 $32,044 $629 72.35
16 Champaign, Illinois 35.7 15.9 $42,330 $799 72.05
17 Flagstaff, Arizona 34.6 15.0 $39,501 $1,033 72.04
18 Athens-Clarke County, Georgia 32.8 19.9 $32,884 $757 71.96
19 Lynchburg, Virginia 35.3 16.9 $35,838 $679 71.87
20 Tallahassee, Florida 33.7 18.2 $40,125 $896 71.87

Worst Cities for Work-Life Balance

Rank City Mean weekly hours worked Mean travel time to work (minutes) Median earnings for full-time, year-round workers (dollars) Median gross rent Overall score
1 Dale CDP, Virginia 39.1 40.5 $50,622 $1,608 29.00
2 Waldorf CDP, Maryland 39.1 41.9 $56,857 $1,429 30.66
3 Menifee, California 38.7 40.8 $42,622 $1,277 31.80
4 Tracy, California 37.3 42.6 $50,080 $1,358 33.00
5 Germantown CDP, Maryland 40.2 36.3 $61,229 $1,640 33.28
6 New York, New York 39.1 39.3 $46,754 $1,196 34.45
7 Chino Hills, California 37.9 37.2 $59,508 $1,790 34.78
8 Antioch, California 37.0 41.8 $50,462 $1,221 36.20
9 Palmdale, California 37.4 39.4 $41,896 $1,111 37.82
10 Corona, California 38.5 36.2 $46,965 $1,315 37.88

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The overall score for each city was calculated from the following measures:

  1. Mean weekly hours worked is from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey  (a third of the overall score).
  2. Mean travel time to work is from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (a third of the overall score).
  3. Median earnings for full-time, year-round workers are from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (a sixth of the overall score).
  4. Median gross rent is from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (a sixth of the overall score).

The study analyzed the 536 largest U.S. cities.
Woman wearing shoe image from Shutterstock.

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  • Sad in Dale City

    Nice that my Dale City, VA makes the list, just on the wrong end. It’s not really that bad, I have a house for sale.

  • Patrick Egger

    You posted data on 30 of the 536 cities … but no link to the data you had to have crunched on the other 506 cities … I think people would like to see how their city measured up.

    • Joel Whitaker

      I agree. I’d love to see the full list. As an IU grad, I’m thrilled to see Bloomington is No. 1. But what about Indianapolis? Fort Wayne? St. Petersburg, Fla.?

  • Gus

    Bloomington, IN, is not a city. It’s a town. I know what a city looks like and Bloomington, IN, does not look anything like it. I’d venture a guess that most other places on this list are not cities either, but I don’t know them all. Gainesville, FL, definitely isn’t and neither is Champaign, IL.

    Another matter is, what is “work-life balance?” There’s no sea in Bloomington, no mountains, no decent river even, and, ibid, no city, so other than attending to your yard, there is really nothing to do in Bloomington, IN, other than working. How does this make for good “work-life balance?”

    The town is easy to get around. It’s small and there’s not much traffic. There are good medical facilities in Bloomington, IN, not overcrowded, so you’re well looked after. Shopping though is dismal. There’s no commercial airport, no passenger railway, not even a Greyhound bus. Getting to and from Bloomington is a nightmare. You have to drive or hire a limousine, which has become quite expensive lately. There is a shuttle service, I believe, to Indianapolis airport.

    Champaign, IL, has better shopping, better restaurants and better cafes than Bloomington, IN. It is also much better connected. There’s a commercial airport and passenger railway in town. And, most importantly, it is a short and easy drive to Chicago.

  • Michelle

    The cost of child care should be included in these calculations. As a working mother in Northern California, one of the most devastating blows to “work-life balance” is the cost of child care. Here, a babysitter for one child is $20 per hour, After-school care at our school is also $20/hour. Parents pay $2,000+ per month for day care. Summer camp is $400 per week on the low end. Child care providers deserve what they make, and more, because they too are trying to get by in a very expensive area and they have an important job (it is almost impossible to live on what one makes working 40 hours per week for $20/hour, considering the cost of housing). However, child care costs keep many mothers out of the work force and, for those who do work, negatively impact their ability to achieve harmony in the transition between work and home. The cities that appear on the list of best places for work-life balance probably do have far more affordable child care; I’d love to see those numbers.

  • Michael Bruce

    It is such a blessing to me that I never had children