Survey: Washington, D.C., is Happiest of 10 Largest Urban Areas in U.S.A.

Terence P. Jeffrey | March 20, 2020 | 4:51pm EDT
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(Photo by Dean Conger/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by Dean Conger/Corbis via Getty Images)

( - The Washington, D.C., urban area is the happiest of the ten largest urban areas in the United States, according to an analysis published today in the World Happiness Report, which uses data from Gallup and is sponsored by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford.

The report’s analysis of the happiness of urban areas around the world and in the United States was developed from data collected by the Gallup World Poll and Gallup US Poll. It was published in Chapter 3 of the report, which is titled “Cities and Happiness: A Global Ranking.”

The Ten Largest Urban Areas in U.S. Ranked by the Current Life Evaluation of Residents

The report ranked 186 urban areas around the world by the “current life evaluation” of people who live in those areas.

“In line with the methodology of the World Happiness Reports, our main outcome is current life evaluation, obtained from the so-called Cantril ladder, which is an item asking respondents to imagine themselves on a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to ten at the top, where zero represents the worst possible and ten the best possible life,” says the report.

“We restrict our analysis to the period 2014 to 2018 and in order to reduce statistical noise, to cities with at least 300 observations recorded during this five-year span,” says the report. “Leveraging the U.S. Poll, we added the ten largest American cities.”

“Our definition of what constitutes a city (for the U.S.) is based on the notion of functional urban areas: territorial and functional units with a population of a particular size in which people live work, access amenities, and interact socially,” says the report. “It is preferable over definitions of cities based on, say, administrative boundaries, in that it is much more representative of the life realities of most people living in a city.”

Washington, D.C., had the highest average “current life evaluation” for any of the ten largest U.S. urban areas. It was 7.185 on the scale of 10.

Dallas ranked second at 7.155; Houston ranked third at 7.110; Boston ranked fourth at 7.091; Chicago ranked fifth at 7.033; Atlanta ranked sixth at 7.031; Miami ranked eighth at 7.028; Philadelphia ranked ninth at 7.004; and New York ranked tenth at 6.964.

Even though it ranked No. 1 in the United States in the “current life evaluation” of its residents, the Washington, D.C., urban area ranked No. 18 among the 186 urban areas worldwide that the report evaluated.

On a global basis, Helsinki, Finland ranked No. 1 (7.828); Aarhus, Denark ranked No. 2 (7.625); Wellington, New Zealand ranked No. 3 (7.553); Zurich, Switzerland ranked No. 4 (7.541); Copenhagen, Denmark ranked No. 5 (7.530); Bergen, Norway ranked No. 6 (7.527); Oslo, Norway ranked No. 7 (7.464); Tel Aviv, Israel ranked No. 8 (7.461); Stockholm, Sweden ranked No. 9 and Brisbane, Australia ranked No. 10 (7.337).

At the other end of the scale, the people in the Kabul, Afghanistan, urban area had the lowest “current life evaluation.”

It ranked No. 186 with a score of 3.236. Sanaa, Yemen had the second lowest (3.377); Gaza, Palestine had the third lowest (3.485); Port-au-Prince, Haiti had the fourth lowest (3.807); Juba, South Sudan had the fifth lowest (3,886); Dar es Salaam, Tanzania had the sixth lowest (3.961); Delhi, India had the seventh lowest (4.011); Maseru, Lesotho had the eighth lowest (4.023); Bangui, Central African Republic had the ninth lowest (4.025); and Cairo, Egypt had the tenth lowest (4.088).

The report also looked at how residents of urban areas around the world evaluated their future lives.

The rankings of urban areas by the evaluations inhabitants had of their future expectations of differed from the rankings based on their evaluations of their current situation.

The Ten Largest Urban Areas in U.S. Ranked by the Future Life Evaluation of Residents

Atlanta, Ga., had the highest ranking among the ten largest U.S. urban areas for future well-being (8.204); Dallas ranked second (8.131); Houston ranked third (8.130); Washington, D.D. ranked fourth (8.098); Miami, Fla., ranked fifth (8.090); New York, N.Y. ranked sixth (7.964); Los Angeles, Calif., ranked seventh (7,926); Chicago, Ill., ranked eighth (7.912); Philadelphia, Pa., ranked ninth (7.895); and Boston, Mass., ranked tenth (7.861).

Among the 186 global urban areas ranked by the study, Atlanta ranked No. 9 for the anticipated future well-being of its inhabitants. Tashkent, Uzbekistan ranked No. 1 globally (8.390); San Miguelito, Panama, ranked No. 2 (8.372); San Jose, Costa Rica, ranked No. 3 (8.347); Accra, Ghana, ranked No. 4 (8.297); Panama City, Panama, ranked No. 5 (8.268); Aarhus, Denmark, ranked No. 6 (8.286); Copenhagen, Denmark, ranked No. 7 (8.208); Helsinki, Finland ranked No. 8 (8.206); Atlanta, U.S., ranked No. 9 (8.204); and Freetown, Sierra Leone, ranked No. 10 (8.203).

According to the Census Bureau, the ten U.S. urban areas included in the report were the most-populous U.S. metropolitan areas in 2018. The Census Bureau estimated that in that year, the New York metro area was the most populous in the nation with 19,979,477 residents. 

The Los Angeles metro area was the second-most populous with 13,291,486 residents; Chicago was third with 9,498,716; Dallas was fourth with 7,539,711; Houston was fifth with 6,997,384; Washington was sixth with 6,249,950; Miami was seventh with 6,198,782; Philadelphia was eighth with 6,096,372; Atlanta was ninth with 5,949,951; and Boston was tenth with 4,875,390.



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