Best Places to Raise a Family

Raising Healthy Kids

Things to consider as you look for the best place to live and raise safe, happy, and healthy kids.
Although you likely want to live close to family and where you work, you might look for other signs of a safe and healthy place to live, including pollution levels, lead poisoning, graduation rates, teen pregnancy rates or access to doctors. Photo: Siri Stafford / Getty Images

We often see reports on the best places to retire and the best places to work, but where is the best place to raise your family?

There are actually several reports on the best places to raise a family, with most using statistics about crime, test scores, and divorce rates.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that promotes better health care policies, in their report on U.S. Variations in Child Health System Performance: A State Scorecard, provides some good statistics to help you choose the best places to raise a family too.

Potential to Lead Healthy Lives

We all want our kids to lead safe, happy, and healthy lives.

Where you live may determine your child's potential to get started leading a healthy life as you can see in this list which ranks states by their rates of infant mortality and a child's risk for developmental delays:

  1. Vermont (lowest rates of infant mortality and lowest risk for developmental delays)
  2. Maine
  3. Utah
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Colorado
  6. Washington
  7. Minnesota
  8. Wyoming
  9. North Dakota
  10. New Mexico

States at the very bottom of the list include Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Babies born in these states had the highest infant mortality rates and were most at risk for developmental delays.

Best Places to Raise a Family

Best Life magazine offers another guide to where the best places are to raise a family.

Their top picks?

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii
  2. Virginia Beach, Virginia
  3. Billings, Montana
  4. Columbus, Georgia
  1. San Diego, California

They make these claims based on the availability of good schools with favorable student-teacher ratios and above-average test scores, and the availability of museums, parks, and pediatricians. Supposedly, these places do not have expensive houses, high rates of divorces, or expensive homes.

That is surprising, when you consider that both Honolulu and San Diego are on many lists of the least affordable places to live. In fact, the median price of a new single family home in Honolulu is $620,000, as compared to the median price of $231,000 in the United States.

On the plus side, Honolulu is one of the cleanest U.S. cities and is considered one of the safest places to live, since except for the occasional hurricane, tsunamis, or volcano eruption, it is not considered prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, brush fires, wind, or hail storms.

You will likely find Virginia Beach and San Diego a little pricey too, so the list may be making some assumptions on how much money this family who is looking for a best place has.

Best Places for Kids

Are these kinds of lists even necessary, after all, how many people are going to move based on a list they read about in a magazine or on a website? Since many more important factors likely influence where you raise your family, such as being close to the rest of your family and where you work, these lists seem almost silly.

They are perhaps helpful if you are moving and need some help choosing among a few places and one is on the list and one isn't.

A real list of the best places to raise a family, such as those by the Commonwealth Fund, is most helpful when it raises awareness about the variations in the health care that kids get in different states, including rates of uninsured children. That will perhaps get parents in lower performing states to push for better access and delivering of health care for their kids too so that all families can live in a "best place."

When considering all performance rankings, including "13 performance indicators of access, quality, costs, equity, and the potential to lead healthy lives," the Commonwealth Fund report ranks these states at the top:

  1. Iowa
  2. Vermont
  3. Maine
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Ohio
  6. Hawaii
  7. New Hampshire
  8. Rhode Island
  9. Kentucky
  10. Kansas

The states at the very bottom of the rankings include Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, Alaska, Oregon, Arkansas, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Oklahoma. These states have more uninsured children, more children who don't receive all of their vaccines, and more children who don't have regular visits with a pediatrician or dentist. They also have more children who are at risk for developmental delays.

Worst Places for Families

So where are the worst places to raise a family? Every city has its good and bad areas and parents have different needs, so it is hard to know, but here is a short list and some important factors to consider when thinking about the worst places to live and raise a family:

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (most polluted city)
  • Chicago, Illinois (highest rates of lead poisoning)
  • Georgia, Nevada, Florida, and Washington, D.C. (lowest high school graduation rates)
  • Washington D.C., Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas (highest teen pregnancy rates)
  • Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and West Virginia (highest rates of children living in poverty)
  • Montana, Washington D.C., and Alaska (highest rates of kids without any personal doctor or nurse)

Best Places for Families

And the best places to live and raise a family? Some things to look for include a place that is safe, where your kids can raise happy and healthy lives and may include:

  • Cheyenne, WY (cleanest city)
  • Alaska (lowest rates of lead poisoning)
  • Arlington, Texas and the 99 other cities on the America's Promise Alliance list of 2008 100 Best Communities for Young People
  • Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska (highest high school graduation rates)
  • New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (lowest teen pregnancy rates)
  • Philadelphia, PA (home of U.S. News & World Report's top ranked Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
  • New Hampshire, Maryland, Connecticut, and Hawaii (lowest rates of children living in poverty)
  • Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont (highest rates of kids without any personal doctor or nurse)


The Commonwealth Fund, U.S. Variations in Child Health System Performance: A State Scorecard. May 2008.

Best Life. The 100 Best Places to Raise a Family. June 2008.

U.S. Census Bureau. Monthly new residential sales press releases and construction price indexes. June 2008. Safety first: The best places to live in the U.S. Aug. 30, 2005.

American Lung Association. State of the Air 2008.

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. High School Graduation Rates in the United States.

National Center for Vital Statistics. Births: Final Data for 2005. Vol. 56. No. 6. December 5, 2007.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center.

The Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health. National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs. 2006.

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