Best Cities for Young Families in Wisconsin

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Best Cities for Young Families in Wisconsin

There are plenty of reasons to love the state of Wisconsin. NerdWallet has previously named Madison, the capital, as the city with the best quality of life in the nation and the greenest city in America. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Wisconsin also has one of the highest rates of volunteerism in the country, and the state, of course, is the No.1 cheese producer in the U.S.

Wisconsin’s success isn’t an accident. The state’s 19th century immigrants brought generations of cheese-making knowledge.

Wisconsin Idea

As for the other qualities, Wisconsin has a long tradition of community involvement and striving to improve the lives of all residents. The Wisconsin Idea came from the work of Robert M. La Follette, who was governor of Wisconsin from 1901 to 1906, and Charles Van Hise, president of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their effort to develop closer ties between state government and the university culminated with the idea “that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. It spans UW–Madison’s teaching, research, outreach and public service.”

The Wisconsin Idea has become embedded in the DNA of the state and its residents, and has helped cultivate the qualities that make the state a wonderful place for young families.

NerdWallet found the communities in the Badger State that offer young families the best combination of solid schools, great neighbors and affordability. Here’s our second analysis of over 140 cities, towns and census-designated places in Wisconsin.

Key takeaways

Excellent schools. The average GreatSchools rating for cities in the top 10 is 8.2 out of 10, which means families can find a place to live with good schools in every corner of the state.
Recent economic growth. For top 10 cities, median family incomes have risen by an average of 62% since 1999. This is significantly higher than the statewide average of 53%.
Wide geographic footprint. Three cities — Waunakee, Mount Horeb and DeForest — are in the greater Madison area, but the rest of the top cities are spread across the state.

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 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 if it is also a healthy one for children.

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NerdWallet crunched the data for 143 places in Wisconsin — 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 Wisconsin

1. Evansville

Evansville is the smallest town in the top 10, but it has a lot of qualities that bigger towns may envy. With its blend of affordability (median home values of $163,400 are 20% below the top 10 average), family friendliness (families with children under 18 make up 31.3% of households) and its beautifully preserved historic downtown, Evansville has all the qualities of an idyllic Midwest town.

2. Holmen

Wisconsin may be America’s Dairyland, but it’s not all grazing pasture. Holmen is near the start of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which gives active families year-round access to some of the best recreational opportunities in the state. The town is home to 12 parks and a number of biking and hiking trails. Young families will also be lured by the growing economic opportunities in Holmen, where median family incomes since 1999 have jumped over 80% — the second-largest gain the top 10.

3. Waunakee

It may be known as “The Only Waunakee in the World,” but this village has a few other things that set it apart: It is one of only three places in the top 10 with a perfect 10 score from GreatSchools, and at 33.1%, it has the state’s highest proportion of households with children. The village hosts a number of popular annual events, including summer’s WaunaFest and fall’s Wauktoberfest.

4. Whitefish Bay

Whitefish Bay prides itself on having a unique character. Even though local businesses line Silver Spring Drive and give Whitefish Bay the feel of a small town, residents here will find close links to the amenities and economy of nearby Milwaukee. Young families looking to settle in the area will appreciate that Whitefish Bay schools scored a perfect 10 at GreatSchools, and that the average family will use about 21% of its monthly income for homeowner costs — the lowest in the top 10.

5. Hartland

Hartland scored a perfect 10 at GreatSchools, and residents will find a community committed to small local businesses. The village’s Business Improvement District helps promote and assist 150 businesses in Hartland’s downtown. Adventurous families will love Hartland’s location on the Ice Age Trail, a 1,000-mile footpath that stretches across the state, and provides many opportunities for hiking and camping.

6. Mount Horeb

Because of its strong Norwegian heritage, Mount Horeb calls itself the “Troll Capital of the World,” honoring the famous creatures from Scandinavian folklore. A series of 15 life-size trolls dot the village, making the “Trollway” a tourist attraction in its own right. The village’s cultural heritage — more than a quarter of the population identifies as having Norwegian ancestry, according to U.S. Census Bureau data — has helped shape the local community. Scandinavian-themed events, like the Scandihoovian Winter Festival, have become some of Mount Horeb’s biggest annual celebrations.

7. DeForest

For families looking to settle near Wisconsin’s capital of Madison, DeForest offers an affordable, community-oriented option. Of the three Dane County places in the top 10, DeForest has the most affordable housing. Families with children also make up 29.4% of households, above the top 10 average of 27.1%. Active families in DeForest have a variety of recreational options along the Yahara River, from the Northern Corridor Park to Bakke Conservancy and the Western Green Area Park that all provide excellent hiking, fishing and canoeing.

8. Sturgeon Bay

The farthest north of the top 10 cities, Sturgeon Bay embraces its latitudinal location. Each year in February, the city holds its annual Fire & Ice celebration, featuring ice-carving competitions. Later, the city takes full advantage of the warmer months with a slate of events, including the Harmony by the Bay concert series throughout the summer, and the Maritime on Madison weekend festival in August. Residents of Sturgeon Bay also enjoy one of the lowest median home values in the top 10, at $135,300, and the 87% gain in median family income from 1999 to 2013 was the biggest jump in the top 10.

9. Onalaska

With the largest population in the top 10, Onalaska may have many of the conveniences of a larger city, but its main draw is its picturesque location and outdoor recreation. Like Holmen, its neighbor to the north, Onalaska is near some of the state’s best parks and natural features — whether it’s hiking along the Great River State Trail to see fall foliage or canoeing on Lake Onalaska — there is no shortage of active adventures for on-the-move young families.

10. Ripon

With median home values of $119,600, Ripon is an excellent choice for families on a budget. Residents here will find a lot of value for the small price tag: the 63% jump in median family income is just above the top 10 average, and Ripon has worked hard to preserve its walkable, quaint downtown area. Many of its buildings still look as immaculate as they did when they were built 100 years ago and tenants include a number of popular cafes, bars and the historic Campus Cinema.

Check out this interactive map of NerdWallet’s top 10 cities for young families in Wisconsin. Click on an icon to see each place’s overall score.

 Best cities for young families in Wisconsin

Location GreatSchools rank Median home value 1999-2013 family income growth 2013 median family income Percent of families with at least
1 child under 18
Young families score
1 Evansville 7 $163,400 60.03% $70,781 31.30% 68.69
2 Holmen 7 $166,600 80.36% $75,788 27.90% 67.86
3 Waunakee 10 $308,200 71.09% $101,328 33.10% 66.64
4 Whitefish Bay 10 $315,600 57.29% $127,017 31.70% 65.68
5 Hartland 10 $248,300 56.09% $91,094 28.30% 64.25
6 Mount Horeb 8 $227,800 45.40% $80,714 29.30% 64.04
7 DeForest 7 $189,300 43.92% $79,688 29.40% 64.01
8 Sturgeon Bay 8 $135,300 87.09% $59,748 15.90% 62.79
9 Onalaska 8 $165,500 55.19% $74,182 23.30% 62.73
10 Ripon 7 $119,600 62.66% $60,833 21.00% 62.67
11 Muskego 8 $269,500 53.87% $98,855 29.40% 62.50
12 Lake Mills 7 $164,500 59.41% $70,352 24.80% 61.97
13 Cedarburg 10 $249,700 60.39% $90,508 25.30% 61.90
14 Oconomowoc 7 $233,400 70.71% $87,487 29.00% 61.82
15 Slinger 8 $190,800 65.29% $77,893 19.80% 61.72
16 Germantown 9 $241,000 52.71% $92,758 24.00% 61.66
17 Cottage Grove 8 $247,300 40.51% $93,618 32.10% 61.54
18 Delafield 10 $350,000 79.66% $111,275 25.20% 61.24
19 Neenah 7 $131,300 45.62% $66,653 21.90% 61.19
20 Rothschild 7 $135,400 38.16% $69,830 20.90% 61.16
21 Oregon 7 $217,900 57.55% $89,149 26.90% 60.88
22 New Richmond 7 $144,600 57.46% $68,457 21.80% 60.81
23 River Falls 8 $175,900 84.98% $76,184 18.50% 60.65
24 Reedsburg 5 $124,700 41.77% $55,504 27.50% 60.54
25 Kimberly 8 $131,300 40.62% $65,205 17.80% 60.53
26 Marshfield 8 $129,900 61.63% $60,204 16.20% 59.97
27 De Pere 7 $168,700 42.39% $71,598 23.00% 59.88
28 Richland Center 5 $102,700 101.29% $54,609 16.20% 59.85
29 Menomonee Falls 8 $230,400 55.47% $90,100 23.70% 59.85
30 Waupun 5 $118,600 58.53% $64,360 22.80% 59.51
31 Pleasant Prairie 7 $218,500 42.74% $89,720 28.50% 59.48
32 Columbus 8 $155,700 57.97% $67,401 18.90% 59.45
33 Brookfield 10 $280,800 36.48% $104,029 26.60% 59.36
34 Wauwatosa 8 $226,600 71.64% $93,577 20.90% 59.32
35 Elm Grove 9 $373,300 79.97% $155,159 26.30% 59.24
36 Elkhorn 7 $167,800 63.97% $62,957 23.50% 59.02
37 Franklin 9 $231,100 42.71% $91,787 22.80% 58.99
38 Mukwonago 9 $223,200 37.69% $77,449 23.10% 58.93
39 Tomah 4 $111,700 67.62% $53,616 20.70% 58.91
40 Sun Prairie 8 $203,700 58.10% $81,175 22.70% 58.62
41 Sussex 9 $260,600 36.20% $82,108 29.60% 58.41
42 Grafton 8 $212,000 49.11% $80,398 22.70% 58.41
43 New Berlin 8 $238,900 42.89% $96,557 23.50% 58.07
44 Merrill 6 $86,600 69.81% $56,205 15.80% 58.03
45 Altoona 6 $151,300 52.38% $61,553 18.80% 57.90
46 Kaukauna 4 $138,500 50.90% $66,365 23.60% 57.70
47 Plymouth 7 $148,200 56.16% $65,748 18.30% 57.68
48 Oak Creek 6 $214,200 59.04% $85,531 24.50% 57.41
49 Stoughton 7 $190,100 58.47% $75,485 20.00% 57.13
50 Hudson 9 $211,400 52.22% $77,618 17.50% 56.87
51 Pewaukee 9 $186,400 50.32% $80,982 14.50% 56.74
52 Sheboygan Falls 6 $142,200 36.95% $64,649 17.90% 56.70
53 Port Washington 7 $189,900 37.01% $73,750 21.80% 56.60
54 Appleton 6 $137,900 41.96% $67,125 21.10% 56.38
55 Plover 5 $161,200 35.83% $69,598 24.50% 56.30
56 Shorewood 10 $291,500 108.05% $98,250 16.30% 56.24
57 Beaver Dam 6 $120,200 47.13% $55,721 18.60% 56.16
58 Weston 6 $143,700 37.45% $63,314 23.00% 56.01
59 Prairie du Chien 6 $106,000 68.70% $57,422 13.30% 55.58
60 Jackson 7 $190,800 30.43% $70,417 22.90% 55.47
61 Burlington 6 $182,100 59.11% $68,998 19.40% 55.45
62 New London 4 $111,000 46.98% $55,104 23.80% 55.37
63 Stevens Point 7 $110,900 69.56% $56,256 13.90% 55.31
64 Verona 7 $245,900 47.85% $96,646 28.10% 55.27
65 Pewaukee 9 $266,200 31.29% $99,239 21.10% 54.71
66 Jefferson 6 $146,100 44.17% $59,055 20.90% 54.56
67 Eau Claire 6 $138,600 76.66% $64,304 16.10% 54.50
68 Baraboo 7 $140,600 48.34% $56,926 18.60% 54.19
69 Monroe 6 $118,600 65.71% $61,182 17.00% 54.17
70 Rice Lake 6 $117,600 66.12% $54,502 13.40% 53.97
71 Platteville 9 $143,100 72.01% $61,481 12.70% 53.93
72 Mayville 6 $139,700 43.53% $60,846 17.40% 53.87
73 Milton 6 $132,800 47.91% $63,899 20.40% 53.55
74 Little Chute 5 $142,100 31.29% $64,987 19.60% 53.51
75 Wind Lake 7 $248,600 33.85% $91,525 24.10% 53.36
76 Whitewater 6 $168,700 81.95% $57,846 14.40% 53.25
77 Hales Corners 8 $226,900 51.79% $82,782 17.70% 53.21
78 Mequon 10 $349,800 34.85% $122,356 25.10% 52.85
79 Hartford 5 $186,600 47.21% $68,543 23.70% 52.82
80 Delavan 4 $146,600 16.25% $49,464 26.00% 52.74
81 Oshkosh 6 $116,800 51.34% $56,960 15.30% 52.70
82 La Crosse 5 $127,800 85.65% $57,744 11.40% 52.67
83 Monona 8 $215,600 67.49% $80,452 13.30% 52.64
84 Edgerton 5 $140,600 41.38% $63,173 16.70% 52.58
85 Fond du Lac 6 $122,200 41.54% $58,192 17.70% 52.47
86 McFarland 5 $236,500 40.15% $88,250 26.20% 52.34
87 Glendale 7 $206,500 45.93% $80,710 17.40% 52.29
88 Portage 5 $135,700 67.01% $59,814 16.70% 52.23
89 Middleton 9 $265,600 72.96% $87,841 16.40% 52.15
90 Two Rivers 4 $97,100 32.30% $52,526 17.20% 52.12
91 Greendale 8 $207,500 37.75% $76,526 20.20% 52.11
92 Menomonie 6 $142,700 85.81% $57,792 13.30% 52.10
93 Fort Atkinson 6 $153,100 37.27% $60,134 17.80% 52.09
94 Menasha 4 $116,300 50.70% $60,184 18.50% 52.08
95 Janesville 6 $130,000 29.59% $59,563 18.50% 51.95
96 Waterford 9 $195,400 28.04% $71,450 19.50% 51.45
97 West Bend 5 $170,100 39.68% $67,488 21.10% 51.35
98 Sparta 5 $106,200 64.81% $55,042 16.50% 51.33
99 Sheboygan 5 $115,600 39.79% $56,009 17.70% 51.32
100 Marinette 3 $78,800 70.01% $53,967 12.50% 51.28
101 Twin Lakes 4 $181,000 63.72% $76,295 24.40% 51.26
102 Chippewa Falls 5 $117,900 62.24% $53,125 15.30% 51.10
103 Manitowoc 4 $108,500 51.11% $57,728 16.10% 51.00
104 Wausau 5 $115,000 50.67% $55,494 16.70% 50.99
105 Waukesha 6 $199,800 46.30% $73,271 20.80% 50.78
106 Waupaca 5 $109,000 51.25% $47,031 14.20% 50.10
107 Watertown 5 $156,600 42.99% $60,859 21.40% 49.71
108 South Milwaukee 4 $163,100 53.95% $68,043 16.90% 49.05
109 Fitchburg 8 $263,600 44.42% $72,833 22.90% 48.95
110 Superior 5 $114,600 72.80% $55,160 14.30% 48.22
111 Brown Deer 3 $159,900 37.51% $69,920 19.40% 48.21
112 Green Bay 5 $128,900 38.29% $53,685 17.20% 47.94
113 West Allis 5 $149,700 52.33% $60,009 13.90% 47.89
114 Madison 5 $214,100 85.34% $77,732 14.50% 47.44
115 Kenosha 4 $149,700 40.28% $58,780 19.70% 47.00
116 Wisconsin Rapids 6 $87,500 35.31% $47,300 12.10% 46.76
117 Rhinelander 4 $87,900 48.43% $43,969 12.90% 46.75
118 Ashland 4 $104,600 61.63% $49,869 14.60% 46.66
119 Greenfield 5 $176,900 54.53% $68,350 14.50% 46.62
120 Sturtevant 3 $142,900 25.29% $64,512 18.30% 45.54
121 Shawano 4 $104,800 47.72% $46,600 13.90% 45.47
122 Cudahy 3 $157,500 51.60% $60,880 17.50% 45.05
123 Antigo 4 $80,000 45.58% $43,015 11.90% 44.55
124 Racine 3 $120,500 30.40% $48,460 15.80% 43.65
125 Beloit 3 $85,800 14.37% $41,646 16.10% 43.26
126 Berlin 4 $106,000 35.66% $50,054 14.10% 43.26
127 Lake Geneva 6 $200,000 38.55% $56,700 13.00% 40.96
128 St. Francis 3 $157,500 79.95% $66,078 8.30% 40.17
129 Milwaukee 3 $127,400 26.64% $40,798 12.00% 35.46

 

Our final calculations didn’t include 14 places that lacked complete school data or 1999 income data.

Methodology

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, lighthouse image via iStock.