Study: Happiest Cities in Illinois

Read more about Can Money Buy Happiness

Chicago is known for winds so strong they can force a smile on your face as your make your way through the city. But in some communities in Illinois, the smiles are even wider and more natural. The CreditDonkey team took on a quest to find out which cities in the Prairie State have the most content populations.

We already know that some of Illinois's cities are great places to raise a family, but that's just a small piece of the bigger picture. To get a feel for which cities are the happiest, we had to do a little more detective work. If you're a native of the Land of Lincoln, take a look to see how your hometown fared.

Study Methodology

First, we narrowed our scope to those cities with a population of 25,000 or more. Then, we assign each of them a numerical ranking on seven specific criteria based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Our final list represents the cities with the best overall rating in these categories:

  1. Restaurants
  2. Crime rate
  3. Commute
  4. Departure time
  5. Income
  6. Divorce rate
  7. Housing

When you're in a good mood you want to share it with friends and family. One of the best ways to do that is by sitting down to a good meal together. If you're the type who likes to socialize over dinner or cocktails, take a look at how each city stacks up based on the number of restaurants per capita.

Illinois is a pretty safe state overall, but some cities have a better crime rate than others. To see how they compare, we looked at the odds of being the victim of a violent crime.

If you're headed to work in a major city like Chicago, you already know that getting there can be a real drag. We think a shorter travel time may make a difference in happiness levels, so we looked at the average commute for each city.

The early birds get the worm, and apparently, they also tend to be a little more cheerful if you believe the scientific research. We wanted to see if there was any truth to that claim, so each of our cities is ranked based in part on the percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.

When you feel like you're putting in too many hours and getting not enough pay, it can leave a sour taste in your mouth. To measure how satisfied residents are financially, we looked at median household income of each city.

Tying the knot is a joyful experience, but what really matters on the happiness scale is whether you stay together. For that reason, we incorporated marital stability into our rankings, docking cities with higher divorce rates.

Living in an expensive area is great if you can afford it, but if you can’t, your smiles may be few and far between as you struggle to make ends meet. We looked at what percentage of income residents are shelling out for housing on average to see where the financial burden is lowest.

10 Happiest Cities in Illinois

10. Burbank

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 494 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 558.9
  • Average commute time: 30.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 7%
  • Median household income: $56,617
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 7.2% of males, 8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.3%

The suburban city of Burbank is situated on the southwest fringes of Chicago, and the 29,000 people who live here are pretty chipper, based on the numbers. Approximately 7% of workers are early birds, the highest percentage in our study, and their upbeat attitude pays off in the form of a $57,000 median income. Divorce rates are fairly low among men and women, plus home prices are much more affordable compared to the greater metro area.

Did You Know: Burbank takes its name from Luther Burbank, a famed horticulturalist and botanist.

9. McHenry

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 353 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 772.1
  • Average commute time: 29.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.3%
  • Median household income: $67,740
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 6.6% of males, 10.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 25.2%

McHenry sits about 60 miles to the northwest of Chicago, along the Fox River. The relatively low violent crime rate and the fact that the median income approaches the $70,000 mark combine to make residents good-humored. Just over 5% of workers head out on the highway before 5 a.m. in the morning, when they’re likely to beat the average 29 minutes it takes McHenry residents to reach their employer.

Did You Know: The heroine of Kevin Smith's 1999 film Dogma hails from McHenry.

8. Park Ridge

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 608 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,711.8
  • Average commute time: 27.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.5%
  • Median household income: $86,621
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 6.2% of males, 8.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 22.4%

Park Ridge is an upscale Chicago suburb of about 38,000 people that borders Des Plaines. Natives sing its praises for a number of reasons, starting with the extraordinarily low violent crime rate. Home prices are higher versus other cities in the metro area, but so is the median income and residents still only spend around 22% of their pay for housing on average.

Did You Know: Before assuming the name Park Ridge, the city was known as Pennyville and Brickton.

7. Elmhurst

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 400 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,389.4
  • Average commute time: 27.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.8%
  • Median household income: $94,424
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 6.4% of males, 9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 21.8%

The city of Elmhurst lies west of Chicago, in between the larger cities of Wheaton and Oak Park. In terms of income, it's the most affluent city on our list, with residents taking home a median salary of over $94,000. Violent crime isn't a big concern, and housing costs aren't exorbitant. The city's dining scene is peppered with international flavor; Italian restaurant Cafe Amano, for example, provides a cozy setting for lunch, dinner or dessert.

Did You Know: Elmhurst College has been recognized as one of the best schools in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report.

6. Wheaton

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 509 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 4,438.6
  • Average commute time: 27.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.4%
  • Median household income: $86,074
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 5.4% of males, 9.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 21.6%

Wheaton is also located west of Chicago, about 30 miles from the downtown area. With over 53,000 residents, you might expect crime to be higher, but the reverse is actually true. Wheaton has the best violent crime rate in our study, and it's one of Illinois' safest cities. Payday usually puts a smile on most peoples' faces since the median income is above $86,000, and they don't have to part with too much of their hard-earned cash for housing.

Did You Know: From 1887 until 1985, the sale of alcohol was prohibited within Wheaton city limits.

5. O'Fallon

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 495 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 915.2
  • Average commute time: 23.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.2%
  • Median household income: $76,268
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 9.3% of males, 11.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 20.5%

Our number five city is located in the southern part of the state, about 18 miles east of where the Mississippi River separates Illinois and Missouri. O'Fallon stands out as one of the region's happier cities primarily because of its higher median income, the rarity of violent crime, and its affordable housing. If you're in the mood for a high-end dining experience in a beautiful setting, you can't do better than Paulo's at the Mansion.

Did You Know: According to local historians, O'Fallon's Rock Spring Seminary was the first college of its kind to be founded in Illinois.

4. Normal

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 699 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 463.1
  • Average commute time: 16.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.8%
  • Median household income: $51,994
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 6.9% of males, 7.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 22.5%

Normal is Bloomington's slightly smaller neighbor to the north, with about 54,000 residents. A combined divorce rate of 14.1% pushed the city to the number four spot in our rankings, along with affordable housing and an average commute of just over 16 minutes. The crime rate isn't quite as low as some of the other cities in our ranking, but it's still better than both the state and national average.

Did You Know: The original Steak 'n Shake restaurant was founded in Normal in 1934.

3. Batavia

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 376 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 797.3
  • Average commute time: 27.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.2%
  • Median household income: $90,060
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 4% of males, 11.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.6%

Batavia is technically considered a suburb of Chicago, even though it's nearly 45 miles away from downtown. It scores the second-best ranking for income, with residents earning in the neighborhood of $90,000. Divorce is relatively infrequent and so is violent crime. There are many places to socialize and grab a bite, like Aliano's Ristorante and Tusk Thai.

Did You Know: Mary Todd Lincoln was briefly a resident of the Bellevue Place sanitarium following her husband's assassination.

2. Bloomington

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 374 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 207.3
  • Average commute time: 15.9 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.1%
  • Median household income: $59,956
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 10.5% of males, 13.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.3%

With a population of almost 78,000, Bloomington is the largest city on our list and one of the largest in the state. Some of the things that delight residents include an average commute of under 16 minutes and housing costs that are very budget-friendly. It also doesn't hurt that the median income is in the higher range, at close to $60,000. There's also a thriving downtown nightlife scene. Consider Rosie's Pub, which serves burgers and beer in the building that once housed Abraham Lincoln's law office.

Did You Know: Bloomington is the world's only manufacturer of Beer Nuts.

1. Moline

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 303 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 247.2
  • Average commute time: 16.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 6.4%
  • Median household income: $49,459
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 11.7% of males, 14.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.9%

Part of the Quad Cities area, Moline is located in northwestern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Davenport, Iowa. It takes the top spot overall based on things like the commute time, the percentage of residents who leave for work early, housing costs, and income. Moline also gets the best rating for the number of restaurants per capita, with places such as the River House Bar & Grill, LemonGrass Cafe, and Bier Stube getting the thumbs up from locals.

Did You Know: The John Deer Pavilion is one of Moline's top attractions, welcoming more than 200,000 visitors annually.


If you didn't see your hometown in our top 10, don't despair. With so many cities in Illinois to choose from, the competition was pretty stiff. Here's a look at a few more places that almost made the cut.

The Top 20 Happiest Cities in Illinois

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Moline302.51 in 247.216.66.4%$49,45911.7%14.4%18.9%
2Bloomington373.71 in 207.315.92.1%$59,95610.5%13.2%18.3%
3Batavia376.01 in 797.327.14.2%$90,0604.0%11.1%24.6%
4Normal699.21 in 463.116.21.8%$51,9946.9%7.2%22.5%
5O'Fallon494.81 in 915.223.12.2%$76,2689.3%11.8%20.5%
6Wheaton509.21 in 4,438.627.52.4%$86,0745.4%9.8%21.6%
7Elmhurst399.71 in 1,389.427.81.8%$94,4246.4%9.0%21.8%
8Park Ridge608.41 in 1,711.827.52.5%$86,6216.2%8.6%22.4%
9McHenry353.01 in 772.129.15.3%$67,7406.6%10.1%25.2%
10Burbank493.61 in 558.930.47.0%$56,6177.2%8.0%24.3%
11West Chicago483.81 in 1,136.926.34.1%$65,1117.6%9.7%25.8%
12Peoria380.51 in 125.417.23.1%$45,77210.1%12.6%20.6%
13Springfield344.51 in 102.916.92.7%$49,62712.9%15.9%19.5%
14Des Plaines374.81 in 902.227.73.4%$65,1947.1%10.1%24.4%
15Rock Island525.91 in 175.817.75.6%$42,61312.4%14.6%21.4%
16Lockport544.51 in 1,666.633.15.7%$77,2209.1%7.9%25.6%
17Naperville487.11 in 1,200.333.91.8%$108,2525.4%8.8%20.9%
18North Chicago899.01 in 408.717.23.5%$45,6845.2%10.2%29.6%
19Quincy367.51 in 216.413.52.6%$41,23912.0%13.4%19.3%
20Pekin410.71 in 194.2183.5%$46,00315.4%16.1%19.2%

1Treated as one combined metric for ranking purposes (at a 50:50 male to female ratio).

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

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