Happy? You must be from Rochester

What’s your secret, Rochester?

The Minnesota city is the only metropolitan area in the north to make the top-10 list of happiest cities. The study from the University of British Columbia and Harvard University ranked Rochester #2 — behind Charlottesville, Virginia — on the list of happy.

1. Charlottesville, VA
2. Rochester, MN
3. Lafayette, LA
4. Naples, FL
5. Baton Rouge, LA
6. Flagstaff, AZ
7. Shreveport, LA
8. Houma, LA
9. Corpus Christi, TX
10. Provo, UT

Minneapolis-Saint Paul ranked #70 on the list.

Northern cities dominated the list of unhappy cities.

1. New York, NY
2. Pittsburgh, PA
3. Louisville, KY
4. Milwaukee, WI
5. Detroit, MI
6. Indianapolis, IN
7. St. Louis, MO
8. Las Vegas, NV
9. Buffalo, NY
10. Philadelphia, PA

Curiously, income does not appear to be a significant factor in happiness. Indeed, it may be that population shifts of a city dictate whether people say they’re happy, the researchers indicated.

It may well be, they seemed to suggest, that cities were victims of their own success:

One interpretation of these results is that the industrial cities were less happy in 1940, but their residents were being compensated with earnings that could achieve other ends, such as nurturing a family.

The data also shows that housing prices in 1940 were higher in areas that subsequently declined, yet there are essentially no housing quality controls in that early data. As such, while it is possible that some of the high earnings in declining cities were eaten away by higher housing rents, it is also possible that these rents were actually compensation for better housing quality.

When we turn to 2000 Census data, we find that the unhappy, declining cities are no longer receiving higher wages. Wages are essentially uncorrelated with our growth variable in the more modern data. But decline is correlated with house prices and rents. In 1940, the residents of unhappy, declining places seem to have been compensated with higher incomes. In 2000, the residents of those same cities seem to have been compensated with lower housing costs.


The researchers also dispute previous studies on the relationship between happiness and children. While it found one-child families tend to be slightly less happy than those without children, it found happiness increases with more children. But it also found that happiness declines when the children become teenagers, a fact the parent of any teenager will likely attest.