U.S. News and World Report recently announced the best places to live for 2023-2024. According to their list, Green Bay, Wis. is the best, followed by Huntsville Ala., and Raleigh & Durham, N.C. Augusta, GA. made the list at #74. Other Georgia places included Savannah at #37 and Atlanta (#64). In South Carolina, Myrtle Beach (#18), Greenville (#31), Spartanburg (#43), Charleston, (#53), and Columbia (#92) made the top 100.
Two colleagues and I have just published a paper measuring whether these kinds of rankings matter to people when deciding where to live. We created an index of economic well-being based on the United Nations Human Development Index. We collected data on gross domestic product (GDP), education, health, and income inequality for all large urban counties (population greater than 62,437) in the U.S. for 2016-2019. We then collected population data for each county to see if counties with better economic well-being saw their populations increase over the period. We found that people do in fact move to places with better economic well-being, or quality of life.
We were then interested to see if we could determine what the most important determinants of population changes were, so we ran a model with these individual measures of well-being, rather than a single rank index. We found that GDP was the most important factor. People move to economically vibrant places with job opportunities. We also found that health and education were also important, but to a lesser extent. Moreover, this model explained more of the variation in population change than a simple index of well-being.
Charles Tiebout, an American economist, coined the term “voting with your feet” and we find evidence that people in the U.S. do vote with their feet by moving to places that are considered “better.”