Study: Happiest Cities in Pennsylvania

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Life in the Keystone State is pretty sweet, especially when you consider that it's home to famed chocolate makers like Sarris Candies and, of course, Hershey's. The cost of living is less than the national average, the economy is anchored by major cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and whether you prefer baseball, football, basketball or hockey, Pennsylvania's got plenty of teams to root for.

We've already figured out the best places to live in Pennsylvania, so we thought we'd take it one step further and look at which cities give you the best chance at being happy.

Study Methodology

Pennsylvania's various regions are overflowing with small-town charm, but for our study, we wanted to focus on places with a population over 20,000. Each city that made the cut was assigned a ranking based on data we collected in seven distinct categories from the U.S. Census Bureau and FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Our final 10 cities are the ones that had the best overall rank in terms of the following:

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

Going out to your favorite restaurant is a nice treat at the end of a grueling workweek, and it's also a good way to spend time with friends or family. To see where the most active dining and nightlife scenes are, we considered the number of restaurants per capita for each city.

Knowing you live in a safe neighborhood makes it a lot easier to sleep at night. We decided to measure overall happiness for each city based, in part, on the odds of being the victim of a violent crime.

Living in a larger city has some drawbacks, especially when it comes to traffic. Our rankings took into account the average commute time so you'll know which cities are the least congested.

It's been suggested that getting a head start on your day can make you happier since you usually end up accomplishing more. We thought we'd test that hypothesis by seeing which cities had the highest percentage of workers leaving before 5 a.m.

When you've got plenty of money rolling in, you may not spend as much time stressing over how the bills are going to get paid. We focused on the median household income in each city to gauge how well residents are getting along financially.

Finding your perfect match can definitely influence how happy you feel. To get an idea of how content married couples are in each location, we looked at the percentage of men and women who are divorced.

Having to shell out a substantial amount to buy or rent a home takes its toll on your wallet and can dampen your spirits. The final measure we used to determine our rankings is the percentage of income residents spend for housing on average.

10 Happiest Cities in Pennsylvania

10. Easton

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 325 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 241.4
  • Average commute time: 26.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 6%
  • Median household income: $40,076
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 9% of males, 14.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 28.7%

Easton sits along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, at the point where the Lehigh River meets the Delaware. A good number of the city's nearly 27,000 residents are up and off to work before the sunrise to tap into the second highest median income in our rankings. If you're looking to enjoy some tasty fare and a handcrafted beer with friends, Porter's Pub is worth a try.

Did You Know: Easton's Centre Square is known for being one of the original reading sites for the Declaration of Independence shortly after it was signed.

9. Pittsburgh

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 277 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 133
  • Average commute time: 23.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2%
  • Median household income: $38,029
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 8.3% of males, 9.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.6%

Aside from boasting six NFL championships, Pittsburgh residents have plenty of other things to be happy about. Married couples should be especially pleased, since the combined divorce rate is the lowest of any city in our study. Housing isn't a budget-buster, and the daily commute won't have you pulling your hair out. If you're a social butterfly, Pittsburgh has an overwhelming number of restaurants and bars to explore, including the top-rated Butcher and the Rye.

Did You Know: In 1954, Pittsburgh-based WQED became the first public educational TV station in America, and local resident Fred Rogers headlined one of its most popular shows.

8. Erie

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 470 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 222.6
  • Average commute time: 16.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.4%
  • Median household income: $33,544
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 10.5% of males, 12.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.4%

The city of Erie sits along Lake Erie, near the Pennsylvania-New York border. Over 100,000 people make their home in the area, and millions more come here each year to visit Presque Isle State Park. Erie ties with two other cities on our list for the shortest average commute, at just under 17 minutes. It also rates well for housing costs, although the median income is slightly lower compared to some of the other spots in our study.

Did You Know: Former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge grew up in Erie.

7. Lebanon

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 441 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 259.2
  • Average commute time: 21.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 7%
  • Median household income: $32,704
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 11.1% of males, 15% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.6%

Lebanon is a quiet little city located in southeastern Pennsylvania's Dutch country, about halfway between Reading and Harrisburg. It's notable for having the highest percentage of people leaving for work before 5 a.m. in the morning. It is also noteworthy for the fact that workers here face a fairly short commute. The cost of buying a home or renting is fairly reasonable, and residents put less than a quarter of their income towards housing.

Did You Know: Since the turn of the 20th century, the Seltzer Co. has been the region's leading producer of Lebanon Bologna.

6. Williamsport

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 393 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 266.5
  • Average commute time: 16.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.9%
  • Median household income: $33,147
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 11.1% of males, 15.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 25.6%

We head north to find our number six city, which sits along the banks of the West Branch Susquehanna River. A little over 29,000 people live in the Williamsport area, and there are a lot of things to like. Getting to work doesn't require a huge investment of time on average, and nearly 6% of workers are on the move in the wee hours of the morning. The Bullfrog Brewery is a great place to hang out and catch local bands in action, but if you're in the mood for Italian, you'll want to try Franco's Lounge.

Did You Know: Williamsport is the birthplace of the Little League World Series. The event is held here each year.

5. Scranton

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 403 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 302.1
  • Average commute time: 18.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2%
  • Median household income: $37,099
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 9% of males, 10.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 23.5%

With more than 75,000 residents, Scranton is the largest city in what's known as the Wyoming Valley, which also includes Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton. Compared to some of our other cities, violent crime isn't quite as frequent and the median income is a little higher, at just over $37,000. Housing costs are less of a strain on your wallet. Plus, the daily drive to the office shouldn't take up too much time.

Did You Know: Scranton became known as "Electric City" after the first trolley line was introduced in 1887.

4. Hazleton

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 315 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 222.4
  • Average commute time: 20.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.4%
  • Median household income: $31,295
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 8.5% of males, 11.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 26%

Hazleton sits to the south of Wilkes-Barre and is the smallest city in our study, with a population of slightly over 25,000 people. Some of the things that put it a little higher in our rankings include a 20-minute average commute and a higher percentage of workers leaving before the sun is up. One of the best things about Hazleton is the variety of eateries throughout the city. Martin's is the place to go if you want a more upscale experience while the Beltway Diner keeps it casual.

Did You Know: Hazleton is located on one of only two anthracite coal pockets in the world, and its coal mining industry has gained notoriety in films and political debates.

3. Wilkes-Barre

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 359 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 241.5
  • Average commute time: 18.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.7%
  • Median household income: $30,777
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 8.3% of males, 10.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 26%

Wilkes-Barre is our third-place finisher, thanks to its relatively low combined divorce rate and an average commute of under 19 minutes. The percentage of income residents spend on housing is slightly more than other cities, but median home and rental prices are incredibly low. Almost 5% of residents are making their way to work before 5 a.m., and at the end of the day, they head to places like Cork Bar for drinks and dinner.

Did You Know: The Planters Peanut Co. was founded in Wilkes-Barre in 1906.

2. Bethlehem

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 413 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 316.8
  • Average commute time: 21.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.7%
  • Median household income: $46,052
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 7.9% of males, 12% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 25.2%

Bethlehem is nestled smack dab between Allentown and Easton, with about 75,000 people calling the city home. Although it's our second-place finisher overall, it got the best ranking in both the income and crime rate categories. Housing isn't outrageous, with rental and purchase prices lower than the greater Allentown metro area. The average commute is a little longer compared to some of other cities, but at under 22 minutes, it's still pretty reasonable.

Did You Know: Bethlehem is home to Pennsylvania's Lehigh University.

1. Altoona

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 416 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 284.7
  • Average commute time: 16.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.7%
  • Median household income: $35,435
  • Percentage of divorced residents: 10.5% of males, 13.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 20.3%

Altoona earned the number one spot on our list because of its short average commute and the fact that residents here spend the lowest percentage of their income on housing. There are about 46,000 people living in the area, which has several safe neighborhoods to choose from. Altoona's got a fair number of places to satisfy your appetite; the Knickerbocker Tavern is a great choice for brunch, dinner or a Lava Lamp martini.

Did You Know: The Leap-the-Dips wooden roller coaster in Altoona's Lakemont Park is the oldest of its kind in the world.


Some readers might be wondering why Philadelphia didn't make the list. After all, over 1.5 million people live there so there has to be something that makes it so appealing, right? We think the City of Brotherly Love has a lot of positive attributes, but when we ran the numbers, the 10 cities in our study proved to be the best for happiness.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in Pennsylvania

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Altoona415.71 in 284.716.83.7%$35,43510.5%13.2%20.3%
2Bethlehem412.71 in 316.821.63.7%$46,0527.9%12.0%25.2%
3Wilkes-Barre358.61 in 241.518.54.7%$30,7778.3%10.7%26%
4Hazleton315.31 in 222.420.35.4%$31,2958.5%11.6%26%
5Scranton403.21 in 302.118.12.0%$37,0999.0%10.6%23.5%
6Williamsport393.31 in 266.516.85.9%$33,14711.1%15.2%25.6%
7Lebanon440.61 in 259.221.37.0%$32,70411.1%15.0%24.6%
8Erie470.01 in 222.616.83.4%$33,54410.5%12.1%24.4%
9Pittsburgh277.41 in 133.023.22.0%$38,0298.3%9.6%24.6%
10Easton324.71 in 241.426.86.0%$40,0769.0%14.6%28.7%

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 financial education website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped consumers make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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