Study: Happiest Cities in Iowa

Read more about Can Money Buy Happiness

If you're happy and you know it, there's a possibility you live in Iowa. After all, the Hawkeye State boasts a cost of living that's around 11% lower compared to the rest of the country. Not to mention folks make a pretty decent buck and unemployment is well below the national rate. You'll get some snow in the winter, but it's nowhere near as brisk as its northern neighbors, and summer brings plenty of warmer temperatures.

Still, some cities have happier residents than others. Here's a look at where Iowans tend to be the most upbeat.

Study Methodology

For Iowa, we based our study on cities with a population of 15,000 or higher. We assigned each of them ranking, and the ones that made our top 10 scored the best cumulative rating across these categories (based on U.S. Census Bureau and FBI Uniform Crime Reports data):

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

If you're a native of Iowa, you know that the regional cuisine centers around lots of comfort foods and, of course, the tenderloin sandwich. Sharing your favorite dishes with friends and family is a great way to boost your mood, so we looked at the number of restaurants per capita in each city.

Iowa consistently ranks as one of the safest states in the nation, but we know that crime rates vary from one city to the next. We checked the odds of being the victim of a violent crime for each city to see where residents sleep easiest at night.

Many people prefer America's heartland to larger urban areas because there's less traffic to contend with on a daily basis. If you're worried about the drive to work putting a damper on the day, take a look at each city's average commute time.

What time you get up in the morning can have a significant influence on how the rest of your day goes. We considered what percentage of workers leave before 5 a.m. as a measure of overall happiness.

When it comes to how much workers earn, Iowans don't fare too poorly. We wanted to see where residents pull in the most cash, so we considered the median household income for each city.

Not every marriage has a storybook ending, and getting unhitched can definitely wreak havoc on your emotions. To try and gauge where the happiest couples reside, we looked at the percentage of men and women in each city who are divorced.

Iowa is a fantastic place to buy a home on a budget, but it's also not bad for renters. We considered the percentage of income residents spend on housing to measure which cities offer the biggest bank for your buck.

10 Happiest Cities in Iowa

10. Cedar Rapids

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 366 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 360.7
  • Average commute time: 17.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.1%
  • Median household income: $52,242
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.8% of males, 14.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.5%

Cedar Rapids is the most populous city on our list and the second largest in Iowa, with more than 128,000 residents. Despite its size, workers require less than 18 minutes on average to get to work and the $52,000 median income is nothing to thumb your nose at. If you're in the market for a home, deals abound and housing costs will run you under 20% of your pay on average.

Did You Know: The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art contains an extensive collection of works by native artist Grant Wood, including his iconic 1930 painting "American Gothic."

9. Ottumwa

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 400 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 356.8
  • Average commute time: 14.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 12.2%
  • Median household income: $37,251
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 13.1% of males, 16.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.6%

Ottumwa straddles the Des Moines River and sits about 85 miles southeast of the capital. If you like to get up with the early bird to try and catch the worm, you'll feel right at home here. Just over 12% of the city's nearly 25,000 residents are getting their day started before 5 a.m., so it's a good thing they enjoy the second-shortest commute on our list. Houses here sell for rock bottom prices; even though the median income is a bit lower, Ottumwa is still on par with our other cities in terms of housing costs.

Did You Know: Actor and comedian Tom Arnold was born in Ottumwa.

8. Ankeny

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 599 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,367.1
  • Average commute time: 21.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.1%
  • Median household income: $73,622
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 7.8% of males, 9.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.8%

With a little over 49,000 residents, Ankeny is one of Des Moines' bigger suburbs, and it's bursting at the seams with good humor. Part of the reason is because it has an outstanding reputation for safety, offering the best violent crime rate in our rankings. It also helps that workers are well compensated for their efforts, with a median income that approaches $74,000.

Did You Know: In 1940, the federal government established an ammunitions plant in Ankeny on what is now the site of the John Deere Des Moines Works.

7. Cedar Falls

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 449 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 841.3
  • Average commute time: 14.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.2%
  • Median household income: $48,727
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 4.9% of males, 7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.9%

Cedar Falls is just to the northwest of the slightly larger city of Waterloo. Close to 40,000 people make their home here and they seem to be a jolly bunch when you look at the numbers. The combined divorce rate is the lowest of any of our cities, and the morning drive in to the office is the shortest on average. To add the icing to the cake, Cedar Falls scored an excellent rating for its violent crime rate.

Did You Know: Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa.

6. Urbandale

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 586 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 709.9
  • Average commute time: 17.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.9%
  • Median household income: $83,134
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.5% of males, 11.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.9%

Urbandale is another suburb of Des Moines. At less than 10 miles away from the downtown area, it's a convenient choice for people who want to stick close to the capital. The city's 41,000 residents seem to be quite content, which can be chalked up to how safe the neighborhoods are and the size of their paychecks. If you're looking for a casual place to grab a bite with friends, be sure to check out The Urban Grill.

Did You Know: Des Moines' Iowa State University is the oldest land-grant college in the world.

5. Muscatine

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 354 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 147.5
  • Average commute time: 15.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 10.7%
  • Median household income: $46,574
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.8% of males, 16% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19%

Smiles comes easy to the 23,000 people who live in Muscatine, and it probably has a lot to do with when they set their alarm clocks. Almost 11% of the residents are headed to work before 5 a.m., and getting there doesn't take up a big chunk of their day. Housing costs won't break the bank; residents here should have enough cash left over to enjoy a dinner out at Salvatore's Ristorante, which serves up old-fashioned Italian classics.

Did You Know: The Pine Creek Grist Mill in Muscatine is Iowa's oldest operating mill.

4. West Des Moines

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 341 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 611.9
  • Average commute time: 16.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.3%
  • Median household income: $68,283
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.7% of males, 11.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.2%

Over 59,000 people make their home in West Des Moines, and it's easy to see what makes life here so enjoyable. Housing costs are easy on the wallet, and residents generally don't feel shortchanged on payday. If you're the type who likes to hit the snooze alarm once or twice, you won't have to worry about rushing to get to the office either. On average, workers take just over 16 minutes to reach their destination.

Did You Know: One of West Des Moines' most famous historical landmarks is the Jordan House, which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

3. Bettendorf

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 646 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 370.6
  • Average commute time: 17.7 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.1%
  • Median household income: $69,083
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.5% of males, 12.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.3%

Bettendorf is part of the Quad Cities area that also includes Davenport and Moline, Ill. More than 34,000 people live in the area and they've got a lot to be glad about from what we can see. Residents fare pretty well in terms of income, earning a median salary of over $69,000, and less than 18% of that goes toward housing. The commute's not too bad. And you won't be disappointed with what's cooking in the local restaurant scene.

Did You Know: In 1991, Bettendorf became the launching point for the country's first modern-day riverboat casino.

2. Johnston

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 446 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 978.9
  • Average commute time: 17.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 0.9%
  • Median household income: $94,014
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 5.8% of males, 8.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.3%

Johnston is Urbandale's neighbor to the north, but with less than 19,000 residents, it's less than half its size. So why did this smaller town make it to our number two spot? The median income played a big part, with residents earning a healthy $94,000. Its higher ranking can also be attributed to the rarity of violent crime and the fact that divorce doesn't seem to be too common.

Did You Know: Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed Johnston's Paul J. Trier House.

1. Clive

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 208 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 589.6
  • Average commute time: 18 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.1%
  • Median household income: $96,452
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 4.8% of males, 9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.2%

Just about equidistant from Urbandale and West Des Moines, the city of Clive is home to about 16,000 people, and based on the numbers, they sit on the highest rung of the happiness ladder. They make the best median income, topping $96,000, and shell out the lowest percentage of their wages on housing, at just over 17%. A low divorce rate, brief average commute and the largest number of restaurants per capita only add to the reasons why residents jump for joy.

Did You Know: The Railway Depot at 86th Street and Swanson Boulevard is one of Clive's oldest buildings.


Iowa's largest city, Des Moines, is noticeably absent from our rankings, but if that's your hometown, don't fret. It's not a sign that your friends, neighbors or coworkers aren't happy about where they live. All it means is that when it comes to the seven criteria we used to compile our rankings, the cities we chose for our top 10 had the brightest outlook of all.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in Iowa

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Clive207.91 in 589.6181.1%$96,4524.8%9.0%17.2%
2Johnston445.91 in 978.917.80.9%$94,0145.8%8.1%18.3%
3Bettendorf646.31 in 370.617.73.1%$69,0838.5%12.8%17.3%
4West Des Moines340.81 in 611.916.21.3%$68,2838.7%11.1%18.2%
5Muscatine353.71 in 147.515.610.7%$46,57412.8%16.0%19%
6Urbandale586.01 in 709.917.81.9%$83,1348.5%11.7%17.9%
7Cedar Falls449.41 in 841.314.32.2%$48,7274.9%7.0%19.9%
8Ankeny598.51 in 1,367.121.12.1%$73,6227.8%9.3%19.8%
9Ottumwa400.11 in 356.814.812.2%$37,25113.1%16.7%19.6%
10Cedar Rapids366.11 in 360.717.33.1%$52,2429.8%14.2%19.5%

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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