What is the best state to raise a family in 2020 - and beyond?
Plenty of parents fret over this decision every year. They may have to relocate for a job or they may simply want to improve their quality of life.
Either way, it's a decision that can have a profound effect on both the present-day safety and happiness of their family members as well as their ability to get an education that helps them succeed in the future.
To help parents make their decisions objectively, MoneyRates.com measured eight different types of data, revealing stark regional differences that helped us identify the best states for raising children.
Conditions for Raising Children Differ between States
The most interesting thing about using data to measure something as complicated as deciding where to raise a family is that it clearly shows where wide differences exist between states. For example:
- Relative to the number of kids in the state under ten years old, Massachusetts has 3.8 times as many daycare professionals as Utah.
- Annual public-college tuition at a four-year school for in-state students is one third as expensive in Wyoming as it is in Vermont.
- Average combined test scores for 8th graders across three different subjects are about 10% higher in Massachusetts than they are in Alabama.
- The violent-crime rate in both Alaska and New Mexico is more than six times that of Maine.
- A child in New Jersey is over 9% more likely to be in excellent or very good health as a child in Texas.
- Neighborhoods in Colorado are more than three times more likely than those in Mississippi to have a full range of kid-friendly amenities.
All states have their strengths and weaknesses. By ranking each state across a wide range of factors and averaging those rankings, MoneyRates was able to figure out which states measured up overall as the best places for raising children.
Overall, Rhode Island made the most progress this year, jumping 18 places from 35th to 17th. On the flip side, Michigan suffered the largest setback by falling 19 places from 23rd to 42nd.
A look at the rankings of all 50 states follows at the end of this article.
Best State to Raise a Family - Methodology
Good parenting is a big determinant of children's success, but it helps to have the support and resources of a good local environment.
So parents can get a feel for where they might expect to find the best locations for their families, MoneyRates.com took a quantitative approach to determine the best states for raising children in the U.S.
This study was first conducted in 2011, using four criteria. The study was expanded to consider eight factors in order to arrive at an updated list of the ten best states for raising children in 2020.
Here are the factors and sources used to rank states for this study:
- Academic performance
Test scores in grade 8 math, reading and science from the National Assessment of Educational Progress were combined for this ranking.
- Availability of youth/student checking accounts
These rankings were based on an analysis of the latest MoneyRates Checking Account Fee Survey to find the number of banks in each state offering special checking account terms for children or students.
- Overall affordability
This was based on cost-of-living data provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research.
- College affordability
The College Board's 2019-2020 academic year figures for in-state tuition at four-year public colleges were the basis for this ranking.
- Crime safety
FBI figures on the rate of violent crimes in each state were used for this assessment.
- Access to daycare
Census Bureau data on the number of daycare professionals and the number of children under ten in each state were used to measure how well daycare supply meets potential demand.
- Child health
Each state was ranked according to the percentage of children reported to be in excellent or very good health on the latest National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) from the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health.
- Kid-friendly neighborhood amenities
This ranking was based on the percentage of neighborhoods in each state reported to the NSCH as having each of four different kid-friendly amenities.
Rankings across all eight factors were averaged so each factor was weighted equally.
Everyone has different priorities about the environment in which they raise their kids, and personal factors like friends and family also come into play. Therefore, you may reach a different conclusion than shown in this study, but the goal is to point out some of the measurable factors you might consider when choosing the best state to raise your family.
Note that the top ten is rounded out by a four-way tie for seventh place.
1: New Jersey
If being a great place to raise a family doesn't fit with your mental image of New Jersey, that may simply underscore why sometimes it's worth letting the data do the talking.
New Jersey ranked number one in child health and scored top-ten rankings in six out of eight categories.
At the other extreme, New Jersey ranked in the bottom ten for two categories related to affordability: overall cost of living and cost of public-college tuition for in-state students.
Based on past performance in this study, New Jersey's number one overall ranking isn't a huge surprise. After all, the state came in third last year.
This second place finish is a repeat of last year's ranking.
Wyoming has the cheapest public-college tuition in the nation, and also ranked in the top ten for academic performance and crime safety.
On the down side, Wyoming is slightly more expensive than the average state, and local access to student checking accounts is relatively limited. Still, by searching for an online checking account, this may not be a concern.
Utah remains high in the ranking again this year. Historically, Utah's greatest strength has been the low cost of college.
In 2020, Utah was able to overcome ranking dead last for accessibility to daycare by having top-ten rankings in a total of three categories: affordability of college tuition, of course, but also academic performance and neighborhood amenities.
This strong showing represents a 10-place improvement over last year's ranking.
Massachusetts benefited from ranking first in access to daycare, a new category that was added for 2020.
Massachusetts also finished in the top ten in academic performance, access to student checking accounts and neighborhood amenities.
As was the case with Northeastern states in general, its chief downfalls related to costs: Massachusetts is one of the ten most costly states, both overall and for public-college tuition.
The major strengths for Minnesota were top-ten finishes for academic performance, child health and neighborhood amenities.
It's worst category was public-college affordability, for which it ranked 37th.
In moving up a couple of slots from last year's eighth-place ranking, Ohio's strongest attribute was a top-ten ranking for access to student checking accounts.
Its most noteworthy weakness was ranking 35th for public-college affordability.
7: (tie) Connecticut
For this four-way log jam at seventh place, we'll list the states in alphabetical order.
In ranking seventh, Connecticut jumped 12 places since last year. It benefited greatly from the addition of the category for access to daycare, in which Connecticut ranked fifth.
However, Connecticut is expensive, ranking among the ten worst for both overall cost of living and public-tuition cost.
7: (tie) Idaho
Though it slipped a couple slots from 2019, Idaho scored top-ten rankings for affordability of public-college tuition, academic performance, low crime rates, and child health.
Its biggest problem area was a bottom-ten ranking for access to daycare.
7: (tie) New York
New York's 14-place improvement was the biggest of any state in the top ten.
New York made solid progress in safety from violent crime and child health, and ranked in the top ten in affordability of public-college tuition, access to student checking accounts and access to daycare.
7: (tie) Virginia
Virginia rounds out the four-way tie for seventh with a strong showing despite dropping four places from last year.
Its strongest attributes were top-ten rankings for access to student checking accounts and safety from violent crime.
The primary drawbacks involve cost: the overall cost of living in Virginia is a little higher than average, and the state is among the ten most expensive for public-college tuition.
Full ranking - Where does your state rank?
Don't see your state? Here's the full list of states according to how they ranked in the 2020 Best States to Raise a Family study: