January 20, 2014

Study: Best States to Raise a Family

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American families have 50 choices. The state they live in may depend on where they grew up, where they work, or what type of environment makes them happiest. And in many cases, the decision on where to park their family takes into account whether a particular area is good for raising a family or not. Whether you’re looking to make a change or are curious about your own state, CreditDonkey.com has a list of the top 10 states in the country for raising children, based on three factors.

Study Methodology

For this analysis, we examined 50 states, finishing with the top 10 states for an average American to raise their children. The rankings are based on the following statewide figures:

  • Adult education levels
  • Childhood poverty levels
  • Rankings of children and teens not exercising regularly

For perspective, we compared each state versus the national average. We gave a heavier weight to education – it accounts for 50% of the ranking, while the other two factors account for 25% each. Combined, these statistics reflect how much a particular state values education and how it ranks compared to the rest of the country in terms of the well-being of children’s physical health and poverty levels.

Where to Raise Your Kids: The Best States for Healthy Families

1. North Dakota

  • Adult education attainment rating: 58
  • Childhood poverty: 10% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 37%

North Dakota as the number-one state in our ranking came as a pleasant surprise. With a population of nearly 700,000, North Dakota is known for its booming oil industry employing nearly a quarter of the population. Based on National Kids Count data, only 13% of the state’s children live in poverty, significantly lower than any other state. North Dakota’s agricultural resources not only drive economic growth, but they offer a healthy environment for raising a child. The state advocates for local farming and is surrounded by natural beauty.

2. Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota

  • Adult education attainment rating: 55
  • Childhood poverty: 8% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 41%

Minnesota followed closely behind North Dakota in terms of how high the head of the household has gone in education. Only 8% of the population does not hold a high school degree, and the state is just 5% behind the national average on childhood poverty. Similar to North Dakota, Minnesota has an abundance of natural resources and leisure activities that keep children and teens healthy and active. Rated the number-one state for physical exercise, Minnesota offers an extensive number of recreational activities, wildlife preserves, and state parks for its residents.

3. Vermont

  • Adult education attainment rating: 47
  • Childhood poverty level: 8% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 37%

The residents of this New England state enjoy their low population status so they can bask in the area’s natural resources, including three major rivers and two large lakes. In 2011, Kids Count Data reported 47% of Vermont household heads holding a high school diploma and 22% possessing a bachelor’s degree. These statistics, coupled with easy access to major east coast cities to visit family and friends, vacation, and conduct business, makes Vermont a great place to raise children, while still only being a day trip away.

4. Montana

  • Adult education attainment rating: 47
  • Childhood poverty level: 3% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 38%

Kids love the Montana Dinosaur Trail and the myriad of outdoor activities available to Montana residents. Further, over half of the population holds a high school diploma. Many residents stay active by hunting, fishing, skiing, and ranching. One of Montana’s most prominent natural tourist attractions, Glacier National Park, has 25 glaciers, 200 lakes, and many streams optimal for trout fishing. It’s rich agricultural products, such as cattle, hay, and sugar beets, along with its booming finance and real estate industries, bolster Montana’s economic health.

5. Iowa

  • Adult education attainment rating: 47
  • Childhood poverty level: 7% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 44%

Iowa’s quality of life is certainly attractive. The state has consistently ranked high as one of the nation’s “most livable” states. Whether you’re looking to launch a business or find a balance between work and play, Iowa is a top choice for families. According to CQ Press, the state has been impressively ranked as having some of the safest neighborhoods, one of the highest high school graduation rates, and relatively low cost of living. With an average commute of just 18 minutes, parents have more time to spend at home with their kids.

6. Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha, Nebraska

  • Adult education attainment rating: 46
  • Childhood poverty level: 5% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 40%

With a population of over 1.8 million, Nebraska is a growing state full of economic and social opportunities. Nearly half of the state’s population has achieved a high school education. Nebraska’s two largest metropolitan cities, Omaha and Lincoln, and low cost of living attract many prospective residents each year. Further, its array of outdoor activities and natural landscape create a serene and healthy outlet for children and parents.

7. South Dakota (tie)

  • Adult education attainment rating: 44
  • Childhood poverty level: 6% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 38%

Nearly half of the people who head South Dakota’s households are at least high school educated, with 20% of them holding a four-year degree. The low level of children living in poverty, combined with the fact that more than half of the children regularly exercise, place this state in the top 10. With six registered national parks, including Mount Rushmore, there is an economic tourism benefit as well, creating jobs and spillover activities for residents to enjoy. Non-locals spend as much as $160 million a year just because of the parks, according to the National Park Service.

7. New Hampshire (tie)

  • Adult education attainment rating: 51
  • Childhood poverty level: 7% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 48%

Bolstered by its high education score, New Hampshire makes it on the list despite its high percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly. That said, New Hampshire offers many perks for families including its distinct four seasons. A quarter of New Hampshire’s heads of household have bachelor’s degrees, which keep the childhood poverty level down. With no sales tax and a state motto of “Live Free or Die,” who wouldn’t want to live in New Hampshire?

9. Maine

  • Adult education attainment rating: 46
  • Childhood poverty level: 2% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 40%

Over 50% of Maine is high school educated, and 60% of children and teens enjoy exercising regularly. Given Maine’s unique natural setting consisting of winding coasts, breathtaking forest grounds, and mountainous landscape, it doesn’t take much to encourage children to experience the outdoors. More acclimated to the colder weather than their southern neighbors, children are more likely to go outside year-round, whether to ski, swim, or kayak. Less than a quarter of children live in poverty, and the state’s tourism industry has maintained stable economic growth.

10. Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts

  • Adult education attainment rating: 50
  • Childhood poverty level: 8% below national average
  • Percentage of children and teens who do not exercise regularly: 51%

The state’s childhood poverty level is significantly low, ranking in at 15%. According to The Pursuit of Happiness: A Survey on the Quality of Life in Massachusetts, over 70% of residents rate their quality of life as “good” or “excellent.” With Boston housing two of the highest-ranking universities in the U.S., it’s no wonder a quarter of the state’s household heads hold a bachelor’s degree.


Many factors guide parents in selecting the best place to raise children. This study offers just one angle that might provide a starting point for discussion. To determine each state’s adult education rating, we factored in how far residents have taken their education in each state, whether they graduated from high school or not, and whether they earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. We based our rankings on data compiled from the Kids Count Data Center, which keeps track of children and family demographics.

Sources used in this study:

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