Top Cities to Find Work-Life Balance

Top Cities to Find Work-Life Balance

Balance is likely to be the answer when you ask people what they value most in their work and personal lives. While work-life balance is essential for many, most people don’t know how to achieve it. FitSmallBusiness analyzed the data to determine what “work-life balance” means, and which cities in the United States have it. We found that while cities that offer sunshine and entertainment are the best places to work-life balance, they have lower costs of living and shorter work hours.

You might believe that places like Las Vegas, or other cultural and outdoor destinations like Portland, Oregon are the best places for “life” and work. Surprised places like Cincinnati and Buffalo made it to the top, which are cold-weather cities that have shorter commutes and work from home.

These cities are less populated, so they may be ideal for work-life balance. They also don’t have the same problems as Los Angeles traffic, or stiff competition from New York and Chicago for jobs. We reviewed public data to help you find the best places to live to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This included information on the most affordable markets, as well as those that offer a wide range of activities to boost happiness and health. We also evaluated commute times and work hours.

We evaluated the cities on economic factors and time expectations, such as weekly hours worked and availability of other activities, to create this list. We identified key metrics and searched the internet for data. Cities that did not have sufficient information were eliminated. Then, we narrowed down the list to 46 cities, and ranked them according to their average work week, entertainment availability, cost of living and exercise frequency. We also considered commute times and home ownership.

In ranking each city, we chose six categories key to work-life balance:

  • Hours worked per Week: We ranked each place based on how many hours someone in the metro area works per week. Cities with longer workweeks were ranked poorly.
  • Exercise frequency Many people consider having enough time to exercise each week to be a healthy work-life balance. To account for this, we ranked cities according to the percentage of residents who exercise at least three times per week.
  • Time to commute: In general, achieving a healthy work-life balance requires that you have free time. We ranked cities on the average length for a one-way trip to determine how much time residents spend stuck in traffic and how much they can enjoy downtime.
  • Cost-of-living: The more expensive a city’s living costs, the harder it is for residents to live their daily lives. We ranked cities using a Numbeo cost of living index.
  • Homeownership Each city was ranked according to the percentage of residents with negative equity in their homes. Cities with higher negative equity indicate that residents must work harder to pay their mortgages and are therefore less likely to enjoy a good work-life balance
  • Entertainment Each city’s entertainment availability was assessed based upon three subcategories. These were the availability of bars, recreational activities and parkland. Cities were then ranked according to each of these metrics.

The best cities for work/life balance are those that offer a wide range of amenities, including entertainment capitals such as Las Vegas, which have tons of things to do, as well as places that have a lower cost of living and better quality of life because of the shorter commutes and longer hours. Check out the list below to find out which cities made it into the top ten in 2018. Below is our ranking of all cities that we evaluated, as well as the research methodology that was used to rank each one.

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These are the top 10 cities where you can find work-life balance

1. Madison, Wisconsin

Downtown Madison

Madison, Wisconsin takes the top spot on our list. It ranks highly in many categories, including the cost of living, home equity, entertainment availability, and longevity of work weeks. It was ranked seventh in low cost of living, which has allowed local residents to have the third highest home equity.

It was also ranked third for entertainment. This is likely due to the proximity of bars and recreation on the University of Wisconsin campus. Madison residents also have the fifth-shortest work week (33 hours) and the fifth-shortest commute (52.2 minutes), which allows them to spend more time in the city and maintain a healthy work/life balance. Madison was 21st in exercise frequency with 53 percent of residents exercising at least three times per week, possibly due to the cold winter.

2. Reno, Nevada

Downtown Reno

Reno is ranked in the top 20 for all categories, earning it second overall. The city is second in cost of living and residents have the lowest average work week (33.2 hours per week). The city has a limited amount of traffic, which makes the commute time to work the eighth-shortest (about 23.88 min).

Reno residents have the opportunity to enjoy a lower cost of living and a lower percentage of homeowners underwater on their mortgages (seventh overall). They also have more time for exercise and entertainment such as resorts and casinos. 56 percent of residents exercise at least three times per week, while 18 percent have access to entertainment. The city is ranked 11th in the country for availability of entertainment.

3. Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland

Portland is ranked third in the world for its entertainment options and physical fitness. Portland, with its vibrant music scene, bars, restaurants, and music scene, was second in our entertainment category. It also ranks well for the accessibility to parks, recreation, and bars. Portland’s exercise rate is fifth among the cities that we evaluated, with 57% of residents exercising at least three times per week.

In our study, the fourth-lowest negative equity rate among metro areas is found in Portland. Portlanders work hard despite performing well in many happiness-related categories. Portland had the 19th-shortest workweek (34.5 hours) while commute times were only 20 minutes (32.18). Portland’s cost of living is extremely high (34th overall), so it is likely that Portlandians will work hard and have fun.

4. Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas

The best work-life balance in Las Vegas is the 33.6-hour workweek. This is fourth among all cities that we evaluated. It also ranks moderately well in terms of entertainment and cost of living, ranking 16th overall. It is not surprising that Sin City was ranked fourth for availability of bars. However, the city’s top spot for parkland was what earned it high marks for entertainment. The area offers beautiful desert hikes and five-star restaurants, and many other amenities.

Even though Las Vegas residents are in the top 10, they still suffer from poor exercise, long commutes, and restricted home ownership. Residents in Las Vegas have to contend with the 26th-shortest commute time (on average 34.44 minutes), but only 52 percent of them exercise. High levels of negative equity in Las Vegas, which was 27th among the cities that we evaluated, further complicate work-life balance.

5. Buffalo, New York

Downtown Buffalo

The short work week in Buffalo was a major reason Buffalo ranked fifth. The shortest work week among all cities that we examined significantly improves the work-life balance. Buffalonians have the sixth-shortest commute to cities — less than 23 minutes each way — as well as the 12th largest entertainment options, with Bills and other top-of the list teams.

Although Buffalo has many great qualities, it also has the highest percentage of negative equity. Residents have to make compromises between work and family because of the mortgage problems and the 11th highest cost of living. It was also 45th in exercise frequency, with 46.5 percent of residents getting up to three times per week.

6. Raleigh, North Carolina

Downtown Raleigh

Raleigh is ranked sixth on our list and has four top-20 rankings in all four categories. Raleigh residents strive to achieve work-life balance. They have the 13th highest percentage of people who exercise at least three times per week (55.1%), thanks to the Capital Area Greenway trail system with over 100 miles. It also has the 12th lowest percentage of residents who have negative equity in their homes.

Raleigh residents are more likely than others to enjoy a healthy work/life balance due to their easy access to entertainment and exercise, but they still spend a lot time at work. The Research Triangle Park, Raleigh-Durham’s technology hub and most likely reason for this is the proximity of Raleigh-Durham. According to the average number of hours worked per week, 19th was the city. The commute time was 32.74 minutes one way. The city’s higher cost-of-living ranking, which was 23rd overall, means that long work weeks are not uncommon.

7. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Downtown Milwaukee

Milwaukee is ranked seventh in this category. It offers a wide range of entertainment options, which has earned it fourth place in the category. It’s no surprise that Milwaukee is ranked fifth in terms of bar count, having been once known as the beer capital. People looking to improve their work/life balance will find it easy to enjoy the city’s moderate work week, which averages 34.4 hours (15th), and commutes that last 26.12 minutes (12th).

Milwaukee’s close proximity to Lake Michigan, three rivers and a number of other waterways means that there are plenty of recreational and boating opportunities. Milwaukeeans have more time to enjoy the outdoors and are therefore less likely to spend their time at the gym. The city is 21st in exercise with 53 percent of residents getting to the gym at least three times per week. Milwaukee’s ranking is also affected by Milwaukee’s 26th-highest cost of living and high proportion of homeowners with negative equity.

8. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Downtown Minneapolis

Despite the high cost of living, Minneapolis is ranked eighth on our list. While the city has the ninth-shortest workweek (34.1 hours), residents in the city have to commute 33.73 minutes, ranking 24th on the list. The city was ranked 17th in terms of negative home equity, meaning that residents may have to work harder to keep a work-life balance.

Minneapolis residents are more active and entertained than other cities, despite having to work harder for housing-related debt. The city was ranked 10th in exercise with 56.2 percent of residents getting to move three times a week or more. It also scored moderately well in entertainment, ranking 19th overall. The city boasts incredible entertainment options such as the Minnesota and Saint Paul chamber orchestras and Town Green.

9. Cincinnati, Ohio

Downtown Cincinnati

Cincinnati ranks fourth on our list due to its low cost of living (4th) and easy access (7th). The city is ranked second in recreation, 10th in parkland, and 21st in bars. The Ohio city has a 34.4 hour work week (15th), and a 32.35 minute commute time (21st). Despite the low cost of living, and easy access to entertainment such as the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s, the ranking of the city is not great. It ranks 44th for low exercise rates and home equity (35th).

Cincinnati residents may feel the pressure to pay off their homes and work longer hours than others, but they are able to keep a work-life balance thanks to the low cost of living. They also have easy access to recreation and basketball. Cincinnati is also home to many universities and professional sports teams, which help residents unwind after a hard week.

10. San Francisco, California

Downtown San Francisco

San Francisco is ranked number 10 in many categories. The city was first for entertainment availability, with its high quality parkland and easy access bars. Despite the 45th highest cost of living, San Francisco has the second-lowest number of people with negative equity.

San Franciscans also enjoy the fourth highest exercise rate among cities that we evaluated. 57% of them are active three times or more per week. However, as expected, the high cost of living in San Francisco is coupled with long workweeks (25th) or lengthy commutes (44th). Despite this, San Francisco is well-known for its amazing nightlife, gorgeous bay, and many other things.

Top Cities for Work-Life Balance in 2018

Overall RankingCityHours Per WeekEntertainmentCost of LivingExercise FrequencyCommute Time (Minutes).Homeownership
1Madison WI5 (33.7).3721 (53%)5 (22.73)3
2Reno, NV3 (33.2).18211 (56%)8 (23.88)7
3Portland, OR19 (34.5).2345 (57.7%).20 (32.18)4
4Las Vegas NV4 (33.6).141626 (51.8%)26 (34.44)27
5Buffalo, NY1 (31.9).122945 (46.5%)6 (22.94)20
6Raleigh, NC19 (34.5).142313 (55.1%)23 (32.74)12
7Milwaukee, WI15 (34.4).42621 (53%)12 (26.12)42
8Minneapolis MN9 (34.1).193510 (56.2%)24 (33.73)17
9Cincinnati, OH15 (34.4).7444 (47.8%).21 (32.35)35
10San Francisco, CA25 (34.7).1454 (57.8%).44 (46.54)2
11Albuquerque, NM21 (34.6).26113 (58.1%)17 (27.27)32
12Sacramento, CA6 (33.8).30378 (56.6%)15 (26.39)15
13Columbus, OH11 (34.2).231828 (51.5%)11 (25.21)23
14Tampa FL15 (34.4).132228 (51.5%)30 (36.06)21
San Diego, CA35 (35.1).8311 (60.6%)32 (38.55)9
16Fresno, CA2 (32.5).361038 (50.3%)9 (24)30
17Kansas City MO-KS25 (34.7).231917 (54%)10 (24.31)25
18Pittsburgh, PA9 (34.1).173630 (51.1%)34 (39.95).19
19Lexington, KY21 (34.6).38136 (50.5%)7 (23.33)8
20Philadelphia, PA6 (33.8).64231 (50.9%)41 (44.9).38
21New York, NY11 (34.2).54642 (49.1%).37 (42.55)10
22Tucson, AZ15 (34.4).44126 (57.1%)22 (32.6).29
23Richmond, VA21 (34.6).341526 (51.8%)2 (20.36).28
24Cleveland, OH13 (34.3).162140 (49.2%).25 (33.9).45
Los Angeles, CA25 (34.7).23416 (57.1%)45 (46.76)6
26Denver, CO36 (35.3).28252 (58.3%).29 (36.04)13
27Oklahoma City, OK31 (34.9).38615 (54.3%)14 (26.29)26
28Seattle WA40 (35.5).10439 (56.3%)40 (43.83)5
29Phoenix AZ38 (35.4).301318 (53.8%)19. (30.5)22
30Miami FL13 (34.3).283820 (53.3%)38 (42.72)31
31St. Louis, MO28 (34.8).202436 (50.5%)18 (27.5).41
32Orlando, FL32 (35)212835 (50.6%)28 (35.9)18
33Jacksonville, FL21 (34.6).262731 (50.9%)33 (38.65).37
34San Jose CA42 (35.7).223916 (54.1%)31 (36.36)1
35Wichita, KS40 (35.5).44523 (52.8%)16 (27)11
36Baltimore, MD8 (33.9).323340 (49.2%).27 (35.78)46
37Chicago, IL28 (34.8).104031 (50.9%).39 (43.1)43
38Riverside CA45 (36)32814 (54.4%)46 (55.62)14
39Washington DC28 (34.8).94439 (49.6%).36 (41.68)34
40Tulsa OK43 (35.8)35931 (50.9%)4 (22.62)33
41Memphis, TN32 (35)422025 (51.9%)13 (26.21)40
42Bakersfield (CA)46 (37.8)431712 (55.9)3 (21.5).39
43Greensboro, High Point, NC43 (35.8)401443 (48.8%).1 (17.4)24
44Atlanta, GA32 (35)363024 (52.3%)43 (45.72)36
45Charlotte, NC36 (35.3).463219 (53.5%)35 (40.27)16
46Toledo, OH38 (35.4).40345 (46.5%)42 (45.67)44


The ranking of the top cities for work-life balance was based on six categories, eight metrics. Each metric was ranked and given a weight according to its likely importance in work-life balance. To calculate the weighted ranking for each metric, we multiplied each city’s ranking by the respective weight and then added all the categories together to create an overall score that was used to rank each individual city.

Six categories of data were analyzed:

Hours Worked Per Week (25%)

An indicator of how likely residents in certain areas will have a healthy work/life balance is the average number of hours they work each week. Our study found that the more people work per week, the less they will prioritize work-life balance. These numbers were provided by the U.S. Labor Department. We also looked at the availability of gig jobs and flexible work hours in each city.

Entertainment (25%)

This measure represents the amount of entertainment available in each city. To account for the diverse interests of each city’s residents, we averaged data for three types entertainment. We compared three metrics to determine an entertainment ranking.

  • Parkland This metric represents the percentage of parkland within each metropolitan area. The data was taken from Trust for Public Land
  • Recreation This measure is based on the number of basketball hoops per 10000 residents of each city. The data, which show the availability of outdoor equipment for public use, was also obtained by The Trust for Public Land
  • Bars per 1,000 residents: This number represents the availability and cost of alcohol in each city. It was derived from a 2015 study by Trulia

Cost of living (15%)

People who live in areas with higher living costs are required to work longer hours to afford housing, food, and transportation. This means that workers have less time to exercise, develop hobbies and enjoy their free time. When ranking cities based upon work-life balance, we used Numbeo‘s cost of living index.

Exercise Frequency (15%)

By looking at how often people exercise in each city, we evaluated work-life balance. This measure shows how likely each city’s residents are to place health above spending time at the office. These data were derived from a 2016 study by Gallup & Sharecare.

Commute Time (10%)

Driving to work is time that can’t be used to complete professional tasks or relaxing. The study found that cities with longer commute times ranked lower in terms of work-life balance. These times are based on Numbeo. They represent the average time it takes to drive one-way in minutes.

Ten percent of homeownership

The homeownership metric measures the percentage of homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages in each city. A city with a higher percentage of negative equity is less likely to promote healthy work-life balance due to the fact that residents have more debt to repay. Zillow calculated percentages using home value data, home-related debt data, and data from TransUnion credit bureau.

The bottom line

The U.S. is ranked in the bottom 20% of countries regarding work-life balance. Some cities and states are better at fostering a healthy work-life balance than other. You might consider moving to the West, such as Portland, Las Vegas or Madison, or other Midwestern cities such as Minneapolis and Madison.

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