The lighter side of real estate

America’s Most Saintly Cities

Put on your halo and find out which of America's biggest cities are the most generous, the least lustful, and generally the most virtuous of them all.

Randy Nelson

Content Manager

119 articles, 53 comments

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Los Angeles might be “The City of Angels,” but when it comes to a city being absolutely angelic in terms of how virtuous its residents are per capita, it’s actually New York City that earns the halo and pair of spiffy white wings (did anyone else hear a record skip?). That’s right—America’s most populous metropolis is also its most saintly. Bet you didn’t see that coming. Honestly, neither did we.

Before we get into the how of our conclusion, it’s probably a good idea to talk a little about the why. After all, there is at least a little bit of method to our math-driven madness here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog.

In this case, we’d been hearing a lot of requests for a follow-up to our Kind of a Big Deal List from last month that ranked the most sinful cities in America. For the uninitiated, the post detailed how we looked at 95 cities and applied criteria to them based on the Seven Deadly Sins to determine, using Saturday Night Science, which were the most “sinful.” St. Louis came out on top of the rankings, proving that, despite its name, it’s no saint. But what if we looked at the data from a different perspective? (In fact, five of the top 10 “Sinful” cities in America are in the midwest…America’s “Bible Belt.”)

So, cities are, in fact, the least sinful and should be put up for sainthood?

Well, dear readers, these are America’s most saintly cities:

1. New York, NY
2. Gilbert, AZ
3. Fremont, CA
4. Glendale, CA
5. Chula Vista, CA
6. Colorado Springs, CO
7. Chandler, AZ
8. Long Beach, CA
9. San Jose, CA
10. Irvine, CA

“But wait,” you say, “New York City? Anything in California? There’s a Gilbert, Arizona? I’m confused!” Fear not; we’ll explain how we arrived at this list—and drop the top 50 on you—if you’ll kindly keep reading.

How’d We Come Up with Our List?

This was a bit of a new twist for our national city rankings—or a flip, if you will. That’s because in order to determine which cities were the polar opposites of our most sinful list, we needed to look at the same criteria (the sins) from the opposite perspective. That meant we still needed to know:

  • Strip clubs per capita (Lust)
  • Cosmetic surgeons per capita (Pride)
  • Violent crime per year per 1,000 residents (Wrath)
  • Theft per year per 1,000 residents (Envy)
  • Percentage of disposable income given to charity each year (Greed)
  • Percentage of obese residents (Gluttony)
  • Percentage of physically inactive residents (Sloth)

However, this time around the cities with the least amount of these things would rank highest and thus be the most saintly. Taking the place of lust, pride, wrath, envy, greed, gluttony, and sloth were chastity, humility, kindness, charity, generosity, temperance, and diligence. As defined by the Good Book, these are the matching virtues to our original Deadly Sins.

Since we had our criteria, we just needed to get the data for them. For this, we looked at the 95 most populous cities in the U.S. based on Census data, then ranked each city in our seven criteria individually from one to 95 with one being best (most saintly) and 95 being worst (least saintly). Then, we averaged the score from all seven criteria to arrive at a final ranking, with the lower the overall score the better. Note that, when applicable, all data was calculated on a per capita basis. You can find out more about how we rank our Kind of a Big Deal lists here.

Below you’ll find a look at each individual criterion, along with which cities from our survey placed highest—i.e., best—in it.

Chastity: Where Skin Definitely Isn’t In

Gentlemen's Club

Source: Lickr user Jay Phagan

The first criterion we looked at for our original list of America’s most sinful cities was absolutely scandalous. For the sin of lust, we decided to add up the number of strip, er, gentlemen’s clubs in each city (based on data from Yelp) and divided it by the number of residents to see how many folks there were for each. To be a saintly city, you naturally shouldn’t have very many strip clubs.

This is the category we heard from a lot of upset St. Louis residents about when we ran our most sinful cities list. Basically, they wondered how on Earth we could say their city had strip clubs when it actually doesn’t (they aren’t allowed in St. Louis proper). The thing is, we never said they did—the city was just so sinful in the other criteria that it made up for a 95th place finish in lust. The good news for America’s most sinful city is that, at least when it comes to chastity, it ranks first. It’s followed by Plano, TX and Greensborough, NC in second and third place, respectively.

Humility: I Like Myself Just the Way I Am

The next sin had tackled was pride: something we had a bit of a tough time assigning a criteria to bellfy deciding that the number of cosmetic surgeons in a city could give us an idea of how in demand these purveyors of permanent makeovers are there. The idea typing this to the sin was that even if you’ve got a lot of pride in yourself, you’ll do anything to get more, even surgically altering yourself in small or large ways. A smaller number of cosmetic surgeons per capita indicates less of a demand for this type of service.

Despite seeing plenty of their handiwork on one of our guilty pleasure shows, “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”, it turned out that Newark, NJ actually has the fewest cosmetic surgeons per capita of any city we looked at according to Yelp. Henderson, NV was second in this category, followed by Laredo, TX.

Kindness: Hugging Not Mugging

We used violent crime statistics to determine how wrathful the cities on our most sinful list were on a per capita basis. So, we turned to these statistics once again to find out where the safest—and most kind—cities were. From the FBI’s numbers, we were able to pin down the number of violent crimes per year per 1,000 residents. (The lower obviously being better.)

If you’re looking for a safe place to live, Irvine, CA is your city. The Southern California town has the lowest incidence of violent crime per capita each year, beating out fellow low-crime locales Gilbert, AZ and Glendale, CA.

Charity: The Only Thing These Cities Will Steal Is Your Heart


Source: Flickr user Matthew Hurst

Envy rears its ugly head when someone wants something that’s not theirs. In the case of our sinful cities ranking, it equated to thefts. So, for a city to be saintly, it should logically have fewer burglaries and stolen cars on a per capita basis. As with our kindness category, we turned to FBI crime statistics for this one. The agency keeps track of the number of thefts per year per 1,000 residents for a particular city.

Irvine, CA once again proved itself to be the most crime-free of the 95 cities we surveyed, with 11 thefts per year per 1,000 residents. Glendale, CA ranked second in this criteria with 13 per year per 1,000 people, while—brace yourself—New York, NY came in third with 15 per year per 1,000 folks who live there. Sure, there a more than 120,000 thefts there each year, but with 8.2 million residents the number per capita is still relatively low.

Generosity: Giving a Little Back

The vanquisher of greed, generosity factors in our look at the most saintly cities in the form of charitable donations. When we ranked the most greedy cities, they had a low percentage of their total disposable income given to charity per year; our generous cities give a (sometimes much) higher percentage.

How high? Well, in the case of Detroit, MI, the most generous of the cities we looked at, it’s an impressive 11.2 percent according to Newark, NJ was a close second at 10.8 percent, while Memphis, TN placed third at 8.9 percent.

Temperance: You Could Eat It All, But You Won’t

Like we said when we created our sinful cities ranking, overeating is just one of the contributors to obesity—our measure of gluttony—but it’s a significant one. So, for measuring the temperance of our cities for this ranking, we looked at the percentage of residents classified as obese according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics. The lower the percentage, the better.

The results were… not entirely unexpected. New York, NY ranked best at 15.2 percent, not surprising given how much walking the folks there do. Unsurprising, too was the fact that our home base of San Francisco, CA placed second at 17.2 percent. But third? Albuquerque, NM, at 19.9 percent, was a little more out of left field.

Diligence: A Walk a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

For our final criteria, we went with the historical antithesis of sloth, diligence. We had equated a high percentage of residents classified as “inactive” by the CDC with sloth for our sinful cities ranking, so here it was a low instance of inactivity that made a city saintly.

An actual saint, St. Paul City, MN, quite literally walked away with first place in this category at a mere 15 percent inactivity. Albuquerque, NM was second at 15.9 percent, perhaps explaining its high ranking in temperance. In third place was that walking wonderland, New York, NY, at 16.4 percent.

Introducing… St. New York City?

Once we scored all of the cities in the individual categories, we calculated an average ranking across all the criteria to end up with our Big Deal Score. When the calculators stopped spitting out their streams of ticker tape, one metropolis stood above the rest, basking in a saintly glow: New York, NY.

We were as surprised by that result at first as you probably were, until we considered the fact that our calculations were all done on a per capita basis. Like we said earlier, NYC might have a lot of theft, crime, and strip clubs, but at 8.2 million residents the math is squarely in its favor. We’re sure that there are probably a few folks who are surprised to see so many California cities in the top 10, but, as with NYC, we see that assumptions aren’t always accurate. If anything, between our two surveys of the most and least sinful cities, we’ve found that the long-held belief that the South and Midwest are more traditionally wholesome no longer stands up—at least based on the criteria we used.

Interested to see where your city ranks? We’ve included the top 50 most saintly cities below for your perusal. Might we suggest listening to some harp music and donning a novelty halo while you do so? It’s the saintly thing to do.

(click to enlarge)

Saintly Cities Ranking

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posted on: July 11, 2013
10,606 views, 2 comments


  1. Yvonne Ahearn

    Did you consider Honolulu? or did you forget we were part of the US too :) ? Honolulu has got to be at the top of this list. I’ve never lived in a more philanthropic city. Not to mention that Honolulu is usually up there on the happiest and healthiest of places to live nationally.

  2. Eric

    I couldn’t help noticing that all 5 of the 5 largest cities in my home state of NC (Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, and Winston-Salem) made the top 50. As a lifelong resident of W-S, I’m PROUD to live in a virtuous city in such an obviously virtuous state…oops! I think I just committed one of the 7 Deadly Sins.


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