Best Cities for Young Families in North Carolina

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Best Cities for Young Families in North Carolina

Few states can claim to have made more changes over the past few decades than North Carolina. Not only has the state modernized its economy — from agriculture to one of the nation’s fastest-growing centers for software and technology services, biotech and life sciences — the state’s economic prospects, affordable housing and moderate climate have attracted new residents from across the nation.

Growth and recovery

According to an analysis by the New York Times, in 1980, 76% of North Carolina residents were natives. Today, that number has shrunk to 58%, with a large number of newcomers coming from the Northeast, the Midwest and, increasingly, from outside the U.S.

By some measures, the economic recovery has been stronger in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole. Although the state’s most recent unemployment rate of 5.8% matches the national average, its post-recession high of 11.3% in January 2010 was higher than the national rate. The improving employment picture, affordability and more make North Carolina one of the nation’s top destinations for young families.

NerdWallet found the communities in the Tar Heel State that offer young families the best combination of solid schools, friendly neighbors and affordability in our analysis of 123 cities, towns and census-designated places in North Carolina.

Key takeaways

Top picks are larger towns and smaller hamlets. Whether young families prefer small communities or large suburbs, they can find the right size. Of the top 10, four cities have larger populations, while the number of residents in three places is among the smallest in the state.

Top towns are more expensive. Every city in the top 10 has a median home price above the state median of $150,600. Most communities have excellent schools and a high proportion of families with children, so those benefits can outweigh the costs of housing.

Greater Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte. Eight of the top 10 cities, one less than our last top 10 list, are in the Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte metropolitan areas.

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NerdWallet’s analysis

Home affordability. We looked at median home value and selected monthly homeowner costs to prioritize affordable communities.

Prosperity and growth. Looking at current and past family incomes, we calculated the income of residents, as well as the projected long-term growth of each city.

Quality of education. We looked at ratings from GreatSchools to find the best schools for young families.

Family friendliness. This year, we added a new component to our methodology — the percentage of families with school-age children and the poverty rate for young children. This measure helps determine if an area is not only affordable for families, but if it is also a healthy one for children.

NerdWallet crunched the data for 147 places in North Carolina — cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with over 5,000 residents were analyzed. To see the full data set, click here.

Best cities for young families in North Carolina

1. Waxhaw

Waxhaw may be only 23 miles south of Charlotte, but this community of 10,244 wears its small-town badge proudly. Families are attracted by ongoing events around the town’s Main Street, including First Fridays, with its focus on local restaurants and retailers; the Jammin’ By The Tracks concert series, which takes place every Friday during the summer; and the Dickens of a Christmas event, which brings “A Christmas Carol” to life in suburban Charlotte. Aside from its lively social calendar, Waxhaw is relatively affordable, with a median home value of $231,000, which is below the top 10 average of $250,000. It also has excellent schools (it earned a GreatSchools rating of 9 out of 10) and nearly half of family households have children younger than 18.

2. Marvin

The Irish playwright Sean O’Casey once wrote: “Money does not make you happy, but it quiets the nerves.” While we aren’t claiming that residents of Marvin are unhappy (in fact, North Carolina is one of the happiest states in the country), this Charlotte suburb is actually the most expensive town not only in the top 10, but also in all of the places we analyzed. However, Marvin offers a nearly unmatched package for the price. Schools are top notch — it is one of three places in our top 10 with a perfect 10 score from GreatSchools, and Marvin’s three public high schools rank among the top 15 in the entire state. Additionally, family incomes have grown nearly 85% since 1999, the largest gain in the top 10. And 72% of family households in the village have at least one child under 18, the highest proportion in the entire state.

3. Holly Springs

Education is integral to understanding Holly Springs. This fast-growing town in Wake County, near the Research Triangle, gives residents direct access to North Carolina’s center for technology, medicine and biotech. In turn, 53.5% of Holly Springs residents hold a college degree or higher, which is more than 20 percentage points higher than the national average. Though the town is near some of the most important institutions in the state, Holly Springs still holds onto and continues to build its own identity. Events such as Hollyfest and the annual Christmas Parade are local favorites, and the Holly Springs Cultural Center, which is home to a performing arts center and outdoor stage, has become a regional destination.

4. Stallings

Stallings is something of a forgotten treasure for young families. Only 27% of family households have at least one child under 18, the lowest in the top 10, and that rate has fallen from 32% in 2000. The town has a GreatSchools rating of 10, and by far the lowest cost of living among cities with a perfect schools rating.

5. Indian Trail

Much like the balanced skillset that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has developed in recent years, Indian Trail has similarly developed a strategy for making it a magnet for young families. The number of households with young children has grown 10% since 2000, in a place with a median home value of $172,600. Indian Trail also holds many events throughout the year, including the Halloween Trunk or Treat and the Piedmont Cultural Arts Festival. After watching Newton pass and run his way through defenses, active young families might enjoy their post-game Sunday afternoons at Colonel Francis Beatty Park, which features biking trails and kayaking and fishing, too.

6. Mooresville

While Mooresville earned the nickname “Race City USA” because it is the home of a number of NASCAR teams, the city has also created one of the more dynamic economies in the top 10. It is the corporate headquarters of Lowe’s, and combined with the town’s location only 25 miles north of Charlotte, is one of the fastest-growing financial and business centers in the country. As a testament to Mooresville’s success: median family incomes have increased 82% since 1999. Word of the town’s rise has spread, and Mooresville now expects the population to double in the next 20 years. With median home values of $186,500 and a GreatSchools rating of 9, much of the town’s expected growth will likely come from young families.

7. Apex

Apex got its name because it was the highest point on a railroad that stretched from Richmond, Virginia, to Jacksonville, Florida. Now, it is near the pinnacle of the best cities for young families in North Carolina because of its affordability and excellent school system. Residents can expect to allocate about 19% of their median monthly income to homeowner costs, which is below the top 10 average of 22%. While Apex is a great choice for young families on a tighter budget, it also has plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities — the Halle Cultural Arts Center in downtown Apex has music and theatrical events throughout the year, and the town is only minutes from Jordan Lake State Park.

8. Stokesdale

Stokesdale may be the smallest town in our top 10, but it has several unique qualities unmatched by our other top-ranked cities. First, its location, northwest of Winston-Salem, makes it only one of two places in the top 10 outside of greater Charlotte or the Raleigh and Durham areas. Second, it embraces its small town qualities in an otherwise high-growth state. The town has grown 63% since 2000, which seems high, except when compared with the average of 197% in the top 10. Young families who hope to build long-term connections may appreciate this slower population growth, which hasn’t held back the town’s economy: Median family incomes have shot up 80% since 1999, well above the top 10 average of 60%.

9. Morrisville

Morrisville is no longer a secret for young families, who have been moving to the town for more than a decade. In 2000, 18.1% of married family households had at least one child under 18, but by 2013, that number had jumped to 32.4% — the largest gain in the top 10. The town’s exceptional school system, which received a perfect 10 at GreatSchools, has been a significant draw, as well as the above-average family income growth. Residents of Morrisville also have a unique blend of amenities, from Lake Crabtree’s fishing, boating and 16 miles of trails to the convenience of its location near Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is only eight minutes away.

10. Etowah

A little more than a decade ago, young families discovered Etowah, and they’ve been coming here ever since. In 2000, only 13.7% of married family households included children, but that number grew to 23.7% by 2013. This increase is second only to Morrisville in the top 10. Young families will find an affordable place to live, with median home values of $180,200, only slightly above the statewide average, along with excellent schools that earned a GreatSchools rating of 9. The town is a stone’s throw from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the U.S.

Best cities for young families in North Carolina

Rank Name GreatSchools score Median home value Family income
growth 1999-2013
Median family income
in 2013
Percentage of residents
married with children
Young families score
1 Waxhaw 9 $231,800 49.32% $82,399 46.40% 64.44
2 Marvin 10 $569,100 84.86% $180,231 71.70% 63.46
3 Holly Springs 8 $236,300 42.33% $98,992 45.70% 63.00
4 Stallings 10 $210,400 66.52% $85,625 27.10% 62.86
5 Indian Trail 8 $172,600 38.28% $71,762 39.50% 62.81
6 Mooresville 9 $186,500 81.81% $78,075 29.20% 62.76
7 Apex 9 $258,500 49.58% $106,283 40.50% 62.52
8 Stokesdale 8 $196,500 80.16% $92,755 30.90% 62.18
9 Morrisville 10 $261,600 65.11% $93,364 32.40% 61.77
10 Etowah CDP 9 $180,200 40.14% $53,867 23.70% 60.05
11 Lewisville 10 $186,100 36.24% $87,971 25.30% 59.91
12 Wake Forest 8 $259,200 81.54% $94,956 37.10% 59.80
13 Harrisburg 8 $222,100 31.27% $85,437 38.20% 59.57
14 Clayton 7 $152,600 60.05% $71,623 28.90% 58.81
15 Oak Ridge 10 $333,700 53.02% $114,167 37.10% 58.56
16 Matthews 9 $217,600 24.05% $83,154 24.50% 58.07
17 Fuquay-Varina 7 $191,500 62.95% $69,911 29.00% 57.93
18 Cary 9 $303,700 50.59% $113,124 32.10% 57.59
19 Clemmons 8 $206,300 38.70% $83,897 25.00% 57.25
20 Fletcher 9 $178,100 19.55% $54,307 20.90% 56.83
21 King 6 $142,100 40.77% $68,830 24.20% 56.68
22 Winterville 5 $162,700 82.86% $68,080 35.00% 56.56
23 Huntersville 7 $245,300 46.27% $105,216 32.70% 56.43
24 Belmont 6 $152,800 89.56% $73,586 19.30% 55.85
25 Havelock 7 $137,600 22.25% $43,215 27.80% 55.59
26 Davidson 10 $391,300 62.44% $127,303 30.70% 55.48
27 Hillsborough 7 $193,600 65.75% $66,484 23.40% 55.32
28 Wrightsboro CDP 9 $151,600 32.73% $50,274 17.50% 55.11
29 Boone 8 $280,800 256.00% $73,125 6.40% 54.93
30 Cherryville 5 $104,300 73.55% $57,364 17.00% 54.89
31 Brevard 7 $178,500 87.45% $62,790 11.50% 54.78
32 Concord 6 $168,300 44.95% $66,812 27.80% 54.39
33 Trinity 6 $125,500 23.79% $53,571 16.70% 54.34
34 Garner 6 $165,600 53.77% $72,856 20.60% 54.33
35 Mebane 7 $163,500 74.57% $68,994 19.80% 54.31
36 Spring Lake 5 $92,900 39.97% $38,243 27.50% 54.12
37 Mount Holly 6 $155,800 69.39% $66,840 21.60% 54.09
38 Archdale 6 $135,500 48.84% $62,055 21.10% 54.02
39 Chapel Hill 9 $367,800 189.13% $113,167 19.70% 53.56
40 Hope Mills 5 $130,500 52.48% $62,054 22.00% 53.46
41 Carolina Beach 9 $258,700 115.65% $81,217 12.70% 53.34
42 Morehead City 8 $191,300 69.68% $48,762 11.50% 53.24
43 Knightdale 4 $168,800 52.22% $85,273 30.80% 53.17
44 Pinehurst 10 $284,500 38.57% $81,685 12.50% 53.08
45 Cornelius 8 $247,900 37.08% $97,682 22.90% 53.07
46 Gibsonville 4 $159,500 67.60% $72,051 25.30% 52.80
47 Mount Airy 7 $129,600 50.10% $40,391 14.30% 52.58
48 Kings Mountain 7 $105,700 42.99% $44,920 11.40% 52.48
49 Nashville 5 $135,800 72.59% $62,772 11.90% 52.44
50 Lincolnton 6 $129,800 41.04% $44,688 17.50% 52.34
51 Wendell 5 $127,200 29.47% $51,466 21.50% 52.29
52 Sanford 5 $138,100 53.05% $53,269 20.40% 52.21
53 Jacksonville 5 $153,600 42.68% $46,435 27.30% 52.08
54 Mocksville 7 $144,500 33.11% $47,132 17.80% 51.86
55 Raleigh 7 $207,000 48.33% $69,139 18.30% 51.84
56 Shelby 6 $118,100 62.76% $47,762 11.60% 51.66
57 Conover 5 $134,000 29.19% $48,552 22.10% 51.54
58 Reidsville 5 $112,100 62.64% $50,482 14.10% 51.47
59 Hendersonville 7 $164,300 53.81% $46,692 12.60% 51.42
60 Newton 6 $109,600 10.20% $40,438 17.20% 51.42
61 New Bern 6 $149,000 76.50% $51,430 14.70% 51.24
62 Winston-Salem 6 $140,400 40.98% $52,170 15.60% 50.89
63 Asheville 7 $196,300 75.88% $57,639 12.20% 50.85
64 Kill Devil Hills 9 $260,900 46.63% $58,233 12.90% 50.78
65 Kernersville 5 $174,500 60.16% $66,497 19.40% 50.69
66 Hickory 6 $158,100 44.92% $53,962 16.70% 50.62
67 Charlotte 6 $170,500 35.02% $63,425 18.80% 50.53
68 Kannapolis 5 $127,700 37.22% $48,756 18.20% 50.31
69 Leland 5 $197,600 119.45% $71,483 17.90% 50.29
70 Monroe 6 $148,800 15.22% $46,616 22.40% 50.28
71 Fayetteville 5 $125,800 38.71% $50,333 17.30% 49.94
72 Black Mountain 6 $171,600 31.81% $46,845 11.70% 49.86
73 Clinton 5 $123,700 101.13% $52,100 10.10% 49.77
74 Marion 6 $83,900 26.87% $31,403 14.00% 49.57
75 Greenville 5 $149,600 90.10% $54,459 11.80% 49.31
76 Lenoir 5 $105,300 47.04% $43,185 13.60% 49.28
77 Asheboro 5 $115,900 21.18% $38,386 16.60% 49.08
78 Waynesville 7 $148,300 53.11% $43,325 9.10% 48.83
79 Thomasville 5 $105,100 24.75% $38,639 17.40% 48.76
80 Lexington 5 $100,300 43.24% $37,565 14.70% 48.65
81 Morganton 6 $130,000 15.71% $40,125 11.30% 48.48
82 Dunn 5 $107,500 47.05% $41,983 10.20% 48.32
83 Roanoke Rapids 4 $112,100 75.77% $50,526 17.20% 48.17
84 Greensboro 5 $147,400 34.29% $53,262 14.60% 48.12
85 Aberdeen 4 $180,800 78.76% $57,045 15.40% 47.98
86 Wilmington 7 $226,200 86.79% $58,091 11.50% 47.88
87 High Point 5 $146,200 26.38% $50,726 17.60% 47.83
88 Carrboro 7 $337,000 139.89% $80,428 22.10% 47.82
89 Southern Pines 6 $248,000 87.16% $72,661 11.70% 47.36
90 Albemarle 4 $119,800 49.89% $47,129 13.10% 47.22
91 Statesville 5 $133,500 20.66% $38,520 15.60% 46.96
92 Bessemer City 3 $95,000 11.67% $37,775 14.60% 46.86
93 Graham 4 $125,700 34.19% $47,913 17.00% 46.64
94 Burlington 4 $126,100 35.98% $48,002 12.30% 46.47
95 Salisbury 4 $121,600 24.48% $40,982 13.90% 46.23
96 Durham 4 $180,500 53.60% $63,221 16.00% 45.98
97 Gastonia 4 $135,900 29.24% $47,720 16.90% 45.85
98 Hamlet 4 $92,100 55.10% $45,000 12.00% 45.80
99 Siler City 4 $95,700 3.53% $34,838 16.20% 45.75
100 Williamston 4 $84,700 85.49% $42,523 9.20% 45.65
101 Eden 4 $82,500 29.76% $35,904 9.50% 45.60
102 Washington 5 $159,900 74.40% $38,467 9.10% 45.17
103 Goldsboro 4 $111,600 41.66% $41,727 12.00% 45.16
104 Forest City 4 $96,500 18.78% $28,796 10.50% 44.99
105 Wilson 4 $131,000 47.04% $45,832 15.50% 44.72
106 Wadesboro 2 $90,200 39.19% $32,434 10.90% 44.66
107 Ahoskie 3 $90,900 62.20% $36,932 8.50% 44.22
108 Smithfield 4 $133,100 39.01% $38,662 13.70% 44.11
109 Kinston 5 $105,600 48.09% $39,436 7.30% 43.94
110 Pineville 4 $145,200 8.26% $41,420 11.40% 43.81
111 Lumberton 3 $100,500 51.95% $40,695 10.50% 43.26
112 Rocky Mount 3 $105,500 31.13% $42,830 10.80% 43.17
113 Oxford 3 $126,000 62.94% $50,034 11.70% 43.16
114 Rockingham 4 $91,200 42.38% $37,835 11.80% 43.16
115 Roxboro 5 $88,800 -5.62% $25,364 9.90% 42.98
116 Laurinburg 4 $92,900 14.97% $33,415 8.50% 42.56
117 Henderson 3 $116,800 50.19% $35,663 10.00% 42.55
118 Elizabeth City 4 $149,400 82.95% $44,262 9.70% 42.41
119 Whiteville 5 $94,200 33.20% $33,906 5.60% 40.87
120 Tarboro 2 $94,700 36.63% $47,000 11.20% 40.31
121 Selma 4 $79,500 -0.88% $23,647 11.80% 39.36
122 Cullowhee CDP 6 $164,600 3.77% $20,430 2.80% 38.96
123 Edenton 4 $111,100 25.85% $31,766 6.90% 36.97

 

The final list excluded 24 places because of incomplete school data or 1999 income data.

Methodology

All data are from the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Our methodology took into account four factors:

Home affordability. Home affordability, 30% of the final score, was calculated by averaging index scores for median home value and median selected monthly owner costs. The lower the costs, the higher the score.

Growth and prosperity. Growth and prosperity make up 20% of the final score. The two metrics involved were growth in family income from 1999 to 2013, and the median family income in 2013. Both were weighted equally and positively.

Family friendliness. To measure if an area is a good one for families, which is 30% of our final score, we looked at the percentage of married couples with at least one child under 18, and the percentage of families in poverty with at least one child under age 5. The percentage of families with at least one child was 70% of the score, while the percentage of families in poverty was 30% of the score.

Educational quality. Using data from GreatSchools, every place was assigned a ranking from 1 to 10 for the quality of schools. The education score is 20% of the final score.


 Charlotte, North Carolina, image via iStock.

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