Study: Best Cities for Families in Illinois

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Illinois has the winning combo of decent wages, access to good schools and stability for young families. Read on to find the 10 best cities to raise a family in Illinois

10 Best Cities to Raise a Family in Illinois

Study Methodology

To determine our rankings, we narrowed our search to include only cities with a population of 30,000 residents or higher. Then we considered these five factors based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  1. Education
  2. Commute Time
  3. Household Type
  4. Residency
  5. Housing Costs

Making sure your kids get a quality education is a top priority and the overall graduation rate is a good indicator of how local schools are doing. For our study, we considered the percentage of people in each city who earned a high school diploma or higher.

Suburban communities often appeal to families since they tend to offer many of the same amenities you'd find in larger cities, but the crime rate and cost of living are usually lower. The only downside is that it sometimes means a longer drive to work. We looked at average commutes to make sure we included those cities with the most reasonable travel times.

If you're moving to a new city, you may be concerned about how easy it will be for your children to make friends. We pinpointed those cities that had the highest concentration of young families based on the percentage of households with children under 18 years old.

When people find a place they like they tend to stay put, and kids benefit from a sense of stability and routine. Each city's ranking is determined in part by the percentage of people still living in the same house they were living in one year ago.

Housing costs vary widely from one city to the next and if you're not careful, they can quickly eat up a big chunk of your budget. We know that raising a family is expensive so we looked at the percentage of income residents in each city spend on housing to find those places that are the most affordable.

10. Buffalo Grove

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 96.3%
  • Commute Time: 29.5 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 34.1%
  • Residing in Same Home: 90.4%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 23.4%

Buffalo Grove is an affluent suburb of Chicago, located just under 35 miles to the northwest of the metro area. We chose this city of nearly 42,000 to fill our number 10 spot because of its excellent education rating and the high percentage of families with young children. Homes tend to sell for a little more but median incomes are higher, at just over $93,000, and residents spend less than 25% of their pay on housing.

Did You Know: For nearly 55 years, the city has hosted the annual Buffalo Grove Days, a community event featuring live entertainment, fireworks and games for all ages.

9. Moline

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 87.9%
  • Commute Time: 16.6 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 27%
  • Residing in Same Home: 88.2%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 18.9%

Located in northwest Illinois, Moline is part of the Quad Cities area that includes Rock Island as well as Bettendorf and Davenport, which are just across the border in Iowa. Neighborhoods like Homewood and Wildwood are popular among families and you'll find your dollars go much further when it comes to housing. There are 18 city parks where you can take kids for a picnic and the John Deere Pavilion regularly hosts family-friendly arts and cultural events.

Did You Know: Moline is home to the world headquarters of the John Deere company.

8. Naperville

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 96.5%
  • Commute Time: 33.9 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 34.1%
  • Residing in Same Home: 90.4%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 20.9%

Naperville is the largest city on our list and one of Chicago's busiest suburbs, with close to 144,000 residents. Excellent schools and a strong economy are just some of the reasons why so many young families choose to move here. Residents earn a median income of $108,000, which makes the slightly longer average commute worthwhile. Attractions like the Naperville Riverwalk and the DuPage Children's Museum provide plenty of fun for parents and kids alike.

Did You Know: Naperville was one of the first cities to dedicate a public memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, which included local resident Naval Commander Dan Shanower.

Tip: With a long 33.9 minute average commute, read up on ways to save money on gas before you head out.

7. Oswego

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 96 %
  • Commute Time: 32.5 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 47.9%
  • Residing in Same Home: 90.8%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 24.9%

Home to nearly 32,000 people, the village of Oswego sits just a few miles southwest of Naperville. The local population has swelled substantially over the last two decades and Oswego has more households with minor children than any city on our list. Median incomes are higher, at around $96,000, and residents spend nearly a quarter of that on housing. Home prices are more affordable compared to Naperville but they're expected to rise, so you'll need to act quickly to lock in a good deal.

Did You Know: Built in 1850, the Little White School Museum was once a church before becoming one of Oswego's first schoolhouses.

6. Downers Grove

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 96.3%
  • Commute Time: 29.5 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 34.1%
  • Residing in Same Home: 90.4%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 22.2%

Downers Grove is another Chicago suburb that's considered prime real estate for families. The population is highly educated and the Avery Coonley School is one of the village's oldest, most prestigious private schools. The median income is just over $82,000, which adds up to a pretty sizable paycheck, and you won't shell out quite as much for housing as you would in some of Illinois's other cities.

Did You Know: Downers Grove consistently ranks among the top cities on Forbes list of America's Friendliest Towns.

5. Northbrook

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 97%
  • Commute Time: 28.6 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 32.9%
  • Residing in Same Home: 91.1%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 22.7%

Part of Chicago's North Shore area, the village of Northbrook is an upscale community of slightly more than 33,000 people. The first subdivisions were developed just after World War II and since then, the area has become a haven for upper-middle class families. Northbrook's residents scored the best in terms of education and they also take home the highest median pay, at just over $109,000. You're just a short drive from Lake Michigan, which is great if you want to take the kids to the beach or test your boating skills on the water.

Did You Know: Director John Hughes lived in Northbrook as a teenager and used the city as a filming location for several of his most popular movies.

4. Algonquin

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 95.5%
  • Commute Time: 37.3 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 40.2%
  • Residing in Same Home: 93.9%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 23.3%

We like Algonquin because of its high concentration of young families and the fact that homes here are much more reasonably priced compared to some of Chicago's other suburbs. Local neighborhoods are a mix of historic homes and newer construction, like the up-and-coming Manchester Lakes area. The average commute is longer than the other cities on our list, at 37.3 minutes, but there's an upside since median incomes are in the six-figure range.

Did You Know: The Algonquin Commons retail center is the largest outdoor shopping complex in Illinois.

3. Bloomington

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 93.8%
  • Commute Time: 15.9 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 28.6%
  • Residing in Same Home: 81.1%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 18.3%

Bloomington landed the number three spot on our list in part because it offers workers the shortest average commute of all 10 cities. If you're looking for a job, State Farm Insurance is the city's largest company, employing nearly 15,000 people. Homes are moderately priced and a median income of nearly $60,000 is nothing to sneeze at. From the Miller Park Zoo to the Children's Discovery Museum of Illinois, there are lots of things to keep families busy.

Did You Know: Future President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous "Lost Speech" in Bloomington on May 29, 1856.

2. Park Ridge

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 95.4%
  • Commute Time: 27.5 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 33.3%
  • Residing in Same Home: 93.8%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 22.4%

Despite being home to nearly 38,000 people, Park Ridge still manages to maintain a small-town feel thanks to its picturesque neighborhoods and welcoming citizens. At less than 20 miles from Chicago, the city's an ideal pick if you want to stay close to the metro area without having to sacrifice education quality or safety. Homes are a little pricier but the percentage of income residents spend on housing is still lower than several of the other cities on our list.

Did You Know: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton grew up in Park Ridge.

1. Elmhurst

  • High School Graduates or Higher: 94.9%
  • Commute Time: 27.8 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 38.6%
  • Residing in Same Home: 91.4%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 21.8%

Elmhurst just edges out Park Ridge for the top spot, based on its slightly lower housing costs and a higher percentage of households with younger kids. Although median incomes didn't influence our rankings, it's worth noting that residents enjoy some of the highest wages of any city in our study. Elmhurst has the advantage of being close to Chicago, which makes commuting convenient if you work in the metro area.

Did You Know: Elmhurst is recognized as a "Character Counts" city, which encourages the development of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship through community-based initiatives.

There's no denying that Chicago is a great place to earn a degree, find a job or just take in a show but the 10 cities in our study are the best all-around if you're focused on raising a family. While several of them are close to the Chicago area, they set themselves apart when it comes to how educated residents are, what they pay for housing and how likely they are to stay put. Whether you're expecting your first child or you're already tending a large brood, the cities we've chosen are excellent spots to bring them up.

The Top 25 Cities for Families in Illinois

RankCity% High School Graduate or HigherAverage Commute TimeHousehold with ChildrenResiding in Same House Last YearIncome Spent on Housing
2Park Ridge95.4%27.533.3%93.8%22.4%
6Downers Grove96.1%28.130.9%91.5%22.2%
10Buffalo Grove96.3%29.534.1%90.4%23.4%
16Crystal Lake92.6%32.941.2%91.1%24.1%
17Arlington Heights95.6%28.429.7%90.5%22.5%
18Tinley Park93.8%33.932.7%93.2%22.8%
19Elk Grove Village93.5%25.227.3%91.6%24.1%
22Orland Park94.1%33.428.%93.5%21.8%

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at

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