As a Sunbelt state, Arizona has seen some of the highest population growth in the country over the past half century. The state’s population has increased an astounding 750% since 1950, from 749,587 to 6,392,017. By comparison, the entire U.S. population increased only 103% over the same period.
With such high levels of growth, Arizona had to move quickly to create cities, which in some cases were designed from a blank slate. Many communities were built with young families in mind — places with amenities like open space and convenient schools. Arizona is also one of the most affordable places in the country, with a median home value of $165,100, which is 6% below the national median of $176,700.
When NerdWallet crunched the data to find the best cities for young families in Arizona, we found strong schools, recent economic growth and family friendly communities.
Greater Phoenix options. Five places in the top 10 are in the Greater Phoenix area, so young families looking to settle near the state’s biggest city have a variety of options.
Above-average schools. The average GreatSchools rating of the cities on our list is 7.4 out of 10, which is better than the statewide average of 6.4. The top 10 include two of the three highest scores in the state — in Corona de Tucson and Vail.
Relative affordability. The average home value in our top 10 cities is $192,410, which is above the statewide average of $188,341 and also the median value. Though families may pay a premium to live in the top cities in Arizona, each community’s amenities make up for the extra cost.
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 at GreatSchools.org to find the best schools.
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 also healthy for children.
NerdWallet crunched the data for 41 places in Arizona — cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with over 5,000 residents were analyzed. We excluded places with a GreatSchools rating of 5 or less, and communities with over 50% of families with children under 5 living in poverty. To see the full data set, click here.
Best cities for young families in Arizona
With a population of 5,566, Snowflake is one of the smallest places in the top 10, but the town takes the top spot with its combination of affordable homes and excellent schools that were rated 8 out of 10 at GreatSchools. The median home value in Snowflake is $131,900, well below the statewide median of $165,100, and the town’s GreatSchools score is one of the best marks in the state. Young families have noticed: 38% of households are families with at least one child — one of the highest marks in the state.
2. Corona de Tucson
With schools that score a 9 at GreatSchools and the second-highest proportion of family households in the state at 39%, Corona de Tucson is the top place for young families in the southern part of Arizona. Active young families will also love Corona de Tucson’s location on the edge of the Coronado National Forest and its hiking, camping and mountain-biking opportunities.
If Corona de Tucson is No. 2 on our list, then it is no surprise that its neighbor Vail would follow. Vail is a bit larger than Corona de Tucson and has slightly more expensive homes, with a median home value of $232,400, the highest in the top 10. Like Corona de Tucson, it has some of the highest-ranked schools in the state. Vail also has seen strong economic growth, with median family incomes jumping 78% since 1999 — the second-best mark in the state.
This city may be the westernmost suburb of Phoenix, but young families haven’t forgotten it in recent years. And even though it has one of the lowest median home values in the top 10 at $135,400, this hasn’t slowed the city’s gains. Median family incomes that in 1999 were $35,383, the lowest in the top 10, increased to $65,978 in 2013, which is comparable to other Maricopa County communities on our list. This 86% increase in income is the highest in the state.
Corona de Tucson and Vail ranked highly, so Sahuarita, their neighbor to the west, is a natural fit to round out the top five places for young families. Sahuarita has the most affordable homes of the trio, with median home values of $186,100. Residents will find a family-centric community for the price, as nearly a third of households are families with children under age 18, and many of them love Fiesta Sahuarita, the town’s biggest annual event celebrating its incorporation in 1994.
6. Queen Creek
Queen Creek is known as one of the most family friendly communities in the Phoenix metro area. The town grew an incredible 815% from 2000 to 2013, and families with children under 18 make up 43% of households — easily the highest proportion in the state. With good schools, scoring a 7 at GreatSchools, and popular annual events like Founders’ Day and the Holiday Parade and Festival, young families will continue flocking to Queen Creek.
With a population of 215,683, Gilbert is not only one of the largest cities in the top 10, but it is also one of the largest in the state. With median home values of $225,800 and a GreatSchools score of 8, Gilbert has traditionally offered young families a place to find affordable homes and excellent schools and also remain closely connected to the economic and cultural opportunities in Phoenix. Education is clearly a passion in Gilbert, where parents packed the room at a recent school district hearing on a budget shortfall.
8. Sierra Vista
This city is the southernmost place in the top 10, and it is also one of the most affordable with median home values of $188,900. Sierra Vista’s location makes it a perfect place for active young families, who will enjoy hiking, camping and wildlife watching opportunities at San Rafael State Park and San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Families also embrace Sierra Vista’s annual events, including the Fourth of July Celebration, which marks its 48th edition this year.
Another Maricopa County city, Surprise is popular for its affordability and its family friendly atmosphere. With median home values of $172,600, it is more affordable than the neighboring communities of Queen Creek and Gilbert, and nearly a quarter of households are families with children. This city is perfect for families who enjoy baseball: Both the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers come here for spring training. Fall’s Fiesta Grande celebration of Hispanic heritage has quickly became one of the city’s biggest and most popular events.
Nestled next to Gilbert and Queen Creek, Chandler is a popular destination for young families. It may be the biggest place in the top 10 at 241,096 residents, but Chandler benefits from its size: schools were given an 8 at GreatSchools, and median home values are $220,300, which is relatively affordable compared with its neighbors. While Chandler is well-established as a family friendly place, it is increasingly welcoming to businesses as well. A $700 million retail, hotel and office development is underway.
On the map below, click on an icon to see more details about each place on the top 10 list.
Best cities for young families in Arizona
|Rank||Location||GreatSchools rating||Median home value||Family income growth 1999-2013||Median family income in 2013||Percentage of families with at least 1 child under age 18||Young Families score|
|2||Corona de Tucson||9||$200,700||66.40%||$87,883||39.00%||75.77|
|34||Lake Havasu City||7||$194,800||38.27%||$50,466||12.30%||49.57|
All data are from the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Our methodology focused on four factors:
Home affordability. Home affordability, 30% of the total 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 are 20% of the total score. The two metrics involved were growth in family income from 1999 to 2013, and median family income in 2013. Both were weighted equally and positively.
Family friendliness. To measure if an area is a good place for families, which is 30% of our total score, we looked at the percentage of married couples with at least one child under age 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. Education is 20% of the total score.
Arizona desert trail image via iStock.