The Best Towns in New Jersey for Young Families

new jersey state

by on October 21, 2013

New Jersey families look for good opportunities for their kids as well as a strong job market, both in and outside of the New York City metro area.

We wanted to identify the communities that offered the best opportunities, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state:

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This nonprofit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at median household income and income growth over the past decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Check out our cost of living calculator here as well as our mortgage rates calculator for more information.

The Best Towns for Young Families

1. Sayreville

Sayreville is on the Raritan River, in Middlesex County. The county boasts the ninth-highest weekly wages in the United States. Sayreville itself is known as an industrial town, and it also boasts a developing tech sector and a growing residential population.

2. Ridged

Ridgewood is a village in Bergen County, near Manhattan. In 2011, CNNMoney named it the 26th best place to live in the entire country, thanks in part to a steady income provided by the financial services industry. The village’s downtown district also features more than 50 restaurants.

3. Fair Lawn

Fair Lawn is a suburb of New York City in Bergen County. The schools here are among the best in the state. Earlier this year, the state Department of Education named Lyncrest Elementary a Reward School – one of only 57 in the state to earn the distinction – because of school-wide performance and a high graduation rate.

4. Westfield

Westfield is a 30,000-person town in Union County. Westfield High School sent 95 percent of its recent graduates to continuing education, and 93 percent of that group went on to a four-year college or university. Westfield’s downtown district features 40 restaurants, as well as independent stores and boutiques. Over a third of these shops and restaurants have been established for the past 25 years.

5. Old Bridge

Old Bridge is in Middlesex County. All together, the county offers 21 county parks that amount to over 6,625 acres of recreational space. Many working men and women commute to New York City during the day, and the county itself includes 100 business parks.

6. Bergenfield

Bergenfield is a borough in Bergen County, and it’s just 13 miles from Manhattan. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek named it the second-best place in the state to raise children. The Washington Post also named Bergenfield Schools among the most challenging in the nation, an analysis based on students’ participation in AP courses and performance on exams.

7. Toms River

Toms River is the seat of Ocean County, which features over 50 miles of beaches. Downtown Toms River includes riverboat dining on the River Lady, a 130-passenger boat, and waterfront concerts. Since Hurricane Sandy hit the area hard last year, small businesses in the community have had the opportunity to apply for grants to help rebuild.

8. Summit

Summit is a city in Union County. The community’s 21,000 residents speak over 35 languages. Its six square miles include parks and fields, a nine-hole, par-three golf course and an aquatics center. From May to November, there is also a farmer’s market at DeForest and Maple.

9. Somerset 

Somerset is an unincorporated area in Franklin Township. The surrounding area is home to big employers, and commuters drive an hour to get to Manhattan. Top industries include pharmaceuticals, technology and communications. The county also includes 13,000 acres of parks, where residents can play golf, picnic, hike, bike and swim.

10. Cliffside Park 

Cliffside Park is a borough in Bergen County. The town is one square mile and home to 23,000 people. The larger area has a thriving healthcare industry. Top employers include Hackensack University Medical Center – a 900-bed research and teaching hospital – and Valley Health Systems.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Sayreville New York City 9 $338,900 $2,310 $73,937 25.5% 60.8
2 Ridgewood New York City 9 $702,900 $3,986 $154,348 48.0% 56.9
3 Fair Lawn New York City 8 $419,500 $2,827 $95,725 32.7% 56.3
4 Westfield New York City 9 $649,800 $3,511 $127,658 29.7% 54.3
5 Old Bridge New York City 7 $365,300 $2,491 $95,188 28.9% 54.3
6 Bergenfield New York City 7 $374,700 $2,890 $86,191 38.6% 53.7
7 Toms River New York City 6 $315,500 $2,174 $73,796 32.6% 52.3
8 Summit New York City 9 $758,400 $3,833 $118,565 27.5% 49.8
9 Somerset New York City 4 $337,600 $2,382 $93,589 42.2% 47.0
10 Cliffside Park New York City 5 $421,500 $2,822 $68,780 48.6% 46.8

Methodology

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

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

46 New Jersey cities and areas designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 20,000 were considered.

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  • Jeff Field

    I say this as someone from South Jersey who has moved away (to Northern Virginia) but was there really not a single town worth mentioning in the Philadelphia suburbs? Maybe you should do a “Best Towns in South Jersey”. Or maybe it really is that bleak.

  • Jenn

    Toms River? Taxes are cheaper and schools are better in Lacey Twp.

  • Shep

    none of these towns are affordable for a young middle class family looking to not live in a shack.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Thanks for the comment, Shep.

      You’re entirely right to point out that many of these communities have higher home values. This study is meant to be a general guide, and New Jersey has plenty of other communities that are great for families. There are many more affordable communities that narrowly missed the list, like Vineland, our #11, where the median home value is $184,400.