You can’t pay the rent, you’re stuck in traffic, you can’t find a job, you’re working too much—it’s all enough to make anyone want to scream. Stress is bad. It doesn’t just result in screaming at inopportune moments, loss of hair, or uncontrollable facial ticks. It can literally kill you, as countless medical studies have shown.
Stress is all around us every day, but is it actually more insidious in certain places? That’s what the Movoto Real Estate Blog wanted to find out in our latest ranking of the nation’s largest cities. As it turns out, the data shows that some places are more stressful—and stressed out—than others. In fact, when it comes to cities where lost hair piles up in huge mounds and fingernail biting could be a pro sport, there’s none better at it than our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
This swirling vortex of antacid and rattled nerves isn’t alone in its misery, oh no. There’s a full top 10 places even a Zen master would have a hard time staying calm in:
There aren’t any real surprises on this list; big city life is notoriously stressful. What’s interesting, though, is the order they’re in (we wouldn’t have expected D.C. to beat NYC, for instance, or L.A. to be so low) and why they’re so stressful. It’s not all about noise and crime, as it turns out.
That said, just how did we determine which places are most likely to send you to an early grave (or at least go prematurely bald)? That’s what we’ll cover next, so keep on reading—we promise to keep the stress to a minimum.
How We Measured Stress (Without Stressing Out)
As we found when researching this ranking, there are lots of factors that contribute to stress. Some are expected (long commutes) while others not as much. So, we created a set of seven criteria we felt best encapsulated the root of stress for most people, and used these to rank the nation’s 100 largest cities:
- Commute time
- High cost of living
- Crime per 100,000 residents
- Hours worked
- Population density
- Percentage of income spent on rent
The higher any of these was, the more stressful the city was. We got our data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey for 2008-2012 and the FBI. Using it, we gave each city a score of 1 to 100 (with one being worst) in the seven individual criteria. These individual scores were then averaged into one Big Deal Score, the lowest of which was the most stressed out city in America.
Like we mentioned above, it wasn’t so much that these cities made the top 10 that surprised us, but rather why they did. Below we’ll take a look at the standout stress stats for each city and wrap the whole thing up with a detailed ranking of the top 50 most stressed out cities.
Our nation’s capital is home to countless politicians and their staff who, all jokes and jeers aside, actually do have pretty stressful jobs when you really think about it. However, the city is also home to countless normal people just going about their normal-profile lives, working at normal jobs, and, as it turns out, being exposed to supernormal levels of stress.
For all the cracks about politicians never really working, it turns out that the more than 601,000 people who call D.C. home are putting in plenty of hours on the job. The city came in third for this category, with residents working an average of 40.1 hours a week. That’s not even the top-end, but the average.
Commute time was another big factor in D.C.’s placement at the top of this ranking. At 33 minutes on average, it was ranked ninth overall. As for the rest of the stats, they spanned from 35th to 11th, but were all consistently high enough for the city’s average score to put it on top as America’s stress capital.
2. New York, NY
The Big Apple’s more than eight million residents could probably stand to eat an apple right now, seeing as how they’ll need those vitamins to counteract all the stress they’re under. In fact, New York ranked first in three criteria that didn’t come as any surprise: commute time, population density, and the percentage of income spent on rent.
Anyone who’s ever commuted in NYC can tell you it’s rough, but we can put a number on it. The average commute time there is 44 minutes, and that’s taking to account the millions of people who make the trip to and from work each day. Speaking of people, this city has more than just a lot of them—it has 27,092 per square mile.
Finally, NYC lived up to all the ribbing it gets for being an expensive place to live. Its residents spend an average of 38 percent of their annual household income on rent. Again, if you live there, we don’t have to tell you how bad it is, but for everyone else: it’s really bad.
3. Miami, FL
Normally when we think about Miami, we picture a laid-back place filled with beaches and people relaxing on said beaches with drinks in-hand. As it turns out, there’s not a whole lot of relaxing going on here for the non-vacationers.
The biggest contributor to stress here is what we were just talking about with regard to NYC: affording a place to live. Miami residents put an average of 37 percent of their yearly household income towards rent, so just slightly less than NYC, placing this city at third overall for that criterion.
If you ask us what the most stressful thing about living in San Francisco is, it’s… finding a place to live. If you ask the data, though, it has a slightly different response, and it has to do with cold, hard cash.
The cost of living index in SF was higher than any of the other 99 places we looked at for this ranking, coming in at a staggering 52 percent higher than the national average. The next-highest factor was population density at No. 2 overall, not surprising when you consider all the people (17,233 per square mile) squeezed into the tip of the peninsula.
We were a little surprised that the percentage of income that goes to rent each year wasn’t higher in SF. Turns out that households spend 34 percent of what they make on it, which isn’t low by any means but pales in comparison to D.C.
Jersey City just might suffer from what we’re dubbing “sympathy stress” due to its proximity to New York City. It’s especially evident in two criteria: commute time and population density.
Where NYC came in first for the former, Jersey City placed third, with the average commute taking 37 minutes. In terms of population density, this city also came in third, with 16,793 people per square mile. That’s just slightly better than San Francisco.
Jersey City tied with NYC for average hours worked per week at 39.4, but ranked higher (which isn’t a good thing, remember?) for crime with 3,062 total reported per 100,000 residents.
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6. Oakland, CA
Oakland is a unique place. On the one hand, it’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance and attracting people from throughout the Bay Area with its more affordable housing and undeniable heart—something that contributed to us naming it the most exciting big city in the nation last year. It still has a crime problem, though, which was a major contributor to the stress of its residents.
In fact, at ninth place for the criterion, Oakland did the worst for crime of anywhere in our top 10. At the same time, it also had the eighth highest cost of living (we said it’s a unique place).
The final piece of the stress-inducing puzzle that is Oakland was commute time. It ranked seventh for its 34 minute average commute.
7. Chicago, IL
Chicago’s a heck of a town. It’s also heck on commuters. The 39 minutes residents spend getting to work each day on average was enough to place the Windy City at second overall for this criterion.
Population density was another big contributor to stress here. Much like the best deep dish pizza has tons of sauce and cheese packed into it, Chicago is packed with 11,872 people per square mile. That was dense enough for the city to place sixth in this category.
8. Newark, NJ
Let’s compare Newark with the other stressed-out Jersey city in our top 10, the previously covered Jersey City, shall we? Specifically, how it actually out-stresses its neighbor to the east in some cases.
For starters, unemployment is slightly higher in Newark, to the tune of 10.2 percent (it’s 9.9 in Jersey City). Then, there’s more crime. While Jersey City ranked 86th in this case, Newark ranked 54th, with 1,706 more crimes per 100,000.
Finally, there’s the percentage of income spent on rent each year. Jersey City ranked 15th for this criterion while Newark ranked seventh. On average, its residents spend 34 percent of their yearly household income on rent.
Philly may be the home of the Liberty Bell, but its residents are anything but free from stress. One of the ways this city really gets its hooks into them is with its average commute time of 35 minutes, which was the fourth worst we found.
Population density was another big stress factor here, ranking eighth overall with 11,378 people per square mile. We’d just like to take this opportunity to assure our many friends in Philly that by “population density” we don’t mean you’re dense, just really crammed into your lovely, historic city.
10. Los Angeles, CA
We said it earlier, but it bears repeating: L.A. was a city we really expected to place higher on this ranking. Maybe it was because of the countless hours lost on the freeway by members of the blog’s staff, or simply the intense pace of, well, everything there.
When we looked at the data, though, the L.A. commute was actually ninth overall at an average of 33 minutes (we know, we know, but the data doesn’t lie). Cost of living, on the other hand, was expectedly high, ranking eighth overall for being 27 percent higher than the national average.
The whole issue of income to housing costs was also a big one in the City of Angels, with the 33 percent of yearly household earnings Angelinos spend on rent earning their city a ninth place finish for this category.
Take A Deep Breath
What are you supposed to do if you live in one of these stressed-out cities? Even thinking about your predicament is probably too much to handle right about now. Well, at least if you live in San Francisco, you can find some relief in knowing that your city has more professional masseuses per capita than anywhere else in our top 10 (a random fact that wasn’t considered in the ranking).
Otherwise, the only advice we can offer is to try and go somewhere less stressful. Somewhere like Lincoln, NE, the least stressful big city we looked at. It might not be New York or D.C. but there’s still plenty to do.
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