Study: Happiest Cities in Kentucky

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Kentucky may be called the Bluegrass State, but people who move here quickly find out that the grass is a lot greener than in other parts of the country. You've got larger cities like Louisville and Lexington, where residents are always on the go, mixed with smaller towns that offer plenty of peace and quiet. Kentuckians are a friendly, easygoing bunch for the most part, so the only conflict you'll likely run into is which team to pull for during college basketball season.

Here's a look at which cities are the happiest in Kentucky.

Study Methodology

To determine which cities have the most upbeat populations, we began by narrowing our list to places with 10,000 residents or more. From there, we used U.S. Census data and FBI crime statistics to assign each of them a ranking. The top 10 cities had the best rank overall based on these seven factors:

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

Homemade burgoo stew is a staple of Kentucky cuisine, but we know that sometimes you just don't feel like slaving away in the kitchen. If you enjoy the occasional dinner out with friends or family, take a look at how each city ranks based on the number of restaurants per capita.

Feeling safe in your hometown is always a priority, and some cities have a better reputation than others. Each of the locations on our list is ranked according to the odds of being the victim of a violent crime.

A happy worker is one who doesn’t have to deal with traffic headaches every day. If you're part of the working crowd, you'll want to see how each city stacks up based on the average commute time.

Early to bed and early to rise was Benjamin Franklin's motto, and it's a good rule to follow if you want to be happier. Studies have shown that an earlier start corresponds to increased productivity and a better mood overall. To test the strength of that claim, we looked at the percentage of residents in each city who are on their way to work before 5 a.m.

Doing a job you love is extremely rewarding, and it's even more so if there's a big stack of cash waiting for you on payday. Our rankings considered the median income in each city to see where residents bring in the biggest bucks.

Walking down the aisle is one of the happiest moments you can ever experience, but the fairy tale doesn't always last forever. We wanted to gauge marital satisfaction, so we factored divorce rates into our rankings.

Kentucky is known for its low cost of living, but in certain cities, homes tend to be more expensive. To give you an idea of which places are most affordable, we considered the percentage of income residents spend on housing.

10 Happiest Cities in Kentucky

10. Hopkinsville

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 452 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 235.1
  • Average commute time: 16.7 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.9%
  • Median household income: $34,664
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 13.9% of males, 16.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 21.5%

Hopkinsville is a family-friendly city of around 33,000 people, tucked away in the Pennyroyal region of southwest Kentucky. Reasonably priced housing is just one of the things that draws new residents to the area. An average commute of under 17 minutes is another. One of the city's highlights is the historic downtown district, where you'll find high-end restaurants like Harper House mixed with low-key burger joints like Ferrell's.

Did You Know: Famed psychic Edgar Cayce was born in Hopkinsville in 1877.

9. Owensboro

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 457 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 462
  • Average commute time: 15.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3%
  • Median household income: $37,762
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 14.2% of males, 17.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 20.2%

With just over 58,000 residents, Owensboro is the most populous city in our study and one of the largest in the Western Coal Field region. Even though it's a bit busier than the other towns on our list, housing costs aren't through the roof and getting to work takes only about 15 minutes on average. Owensboro styles itself as the barbecue capital of the world and you can sample the local flavor at Old Hickory Bar-B-Q.

Did You Know: Actor Johnny Depp, who toggles between playing crazy-happy characters and dark personas, hails from Owensboro.

8. Lawrenceburg

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 442 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 2,660.5
  • Average commute time: 24.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 6.9%
  • Median household income: $48,371
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 15.5% of males, 20.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.1%

Lawrenceburg is nestled in the heart of central Kentucky, less than 30 miles west of Lexington. About 11,000 people reside in the area, and one of the things they like most is how safe the city is. Nearly 7% of workers start their day before dawn, and they haul in a healthy median income of over $48,000. The best part is, less than 20% of what they earn is spent on housing.

Did You Know: The Wild Turkey brand of bourbon is made in Lawrenceburg, and its distillery is part of the American Whiskey Trail.

7. Erlanger

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 592 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 847.5
  • Average commute time: 21.9 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.3%
  • Median household income: $58,627
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.1% of males, 15.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.1%

The city of Erlanger is near the Kentucky-Ohio border, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Its population is right around 18,000 and counting, with new arrivals attracted by the low occurrence of violent crime and the higher median salary. Housing prices aren't a deal-breaker, whether you're renting or buying, and the daily commute isn't too time consuming.

Did You Know: Erlanger's previous names include Timberlake, Greenwood and Silver Lake.

6. St. Matthews

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 211 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 441.3
  • Average commute time: 17.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3%
  • Median household income: $48,220
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.5% of males, 17.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 22.4%

St. Matthews is situated just east of Louisville, and it's a smart choice if you prefer the suburban lifestyle but don't want to stray too far from the big city. Close to 18,000 people have settled down in the area, and it's especially well suited to working professionals. The median income is just shy of $50,000, and the trip to work takes around 17 minutes on average. St. Matthews scores the best rating for the number of restaurants per capita, with choices ranging from American to Cuban to Mediterranean.

Did You Know: St. Matthews is a shopping hotspot, with two of the largest malls in the state.

5. Murray

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 315 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 597.9
  • Average commute time: 14 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.9%
  • Median household income: $31,882
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.1% of males, 11% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 21.5%

Murray sits in southwestern Kentucky, not far from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. With about 18,000 residents, it's similar in size to several of the other cities in our study, but it stands out for having the shortest average commute, at just 14 minutes flat. Its violent crime rate and variety of restaurants also helped it to earn a higher spot in our rankings.

Did You Know: Murray hosts several well-known festivals throughout the year, including Freedom Fest and the West Kentucky Highland Games.

4. Radcliff

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 562 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 434.4
  • Average commute time: 20.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 8%
  • Median household income: $45,110
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.3% of males, 16.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.6%

Radcliff is a thriving little town south of Louisville and adjacent to the Fort Knox military base. The outlook is pretty sunny for the 23,000 people who live here; in fact, 8% of them watch the sun come up every day because they get up and go before 5 a.m. Housing isn't too pricey and neighborhoods are relatively safe. Getting to work won't take up too much of your time, and there are a number of restaurants where you can grab a bite at the end of the day.

Did You Know: The Gold Vault at Fort Knox is believed to hold approximately $7 trillion worth of gold.

3. Berea

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 472 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 862.4
  • Average commute time: 18.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.9%
  • Median household income: $40,061
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.2% of males, 17% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.1%

If you like the great outdoors, Berea is sure to put a smile on your face. This city of 14,000 residents sits on the edge of the Bluegrass region, close to the Daniel Boone National Forest. A vibrant arts community attracts ample tourist traffic, but the low housing costs and rarity of violent crime are what keeps locals rooted. Local dining spots like Dino's and Main Street Cafe feature outstanding food and friendly service.

Did You Know: Berea College was the first racially integrated and coeducational institution of higher learning in the South.

2. Madisonville

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 440 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 561.1
  • Average commute time: 15.7 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.2%
  • Median household income: $38,694
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.6% of males, 18.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.4%

The city of Madisonville made it to the number two spot on our list based in part on its relatively brief commute time. At nearly $40,000, the median income isn't too shabby, and residents part with less than 20% of their pay for housing. There's no shortage of places to sit down to a good meal, and the #9 Steakhouse is a neighborhood favorite for lunch and dinner.

Did You Know: Madisonville is named for the fourth president of the United States, James Madison.

1. Fort Thomas

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 1,248 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 8,239
  • Average commute time: 19.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.2%
  • Median household income: $60,578
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.7% of males, 8.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.9%

Fort Thomas is our first-place finisher, and its 16,000 residents have much to feel glad about. Not only is it the safest city in our study, people here also earn the highest median income, at just over $60,000. Both the divorce rate and the percentage of income residents spend on housing are the lowest on our list. A decent commute time and restaurants like Cobblestone Cafe round out the reasons why Fort Thomas landed the top spot.

Did You Know: One of Fort Thomas's most recognizable landmarks is the 102-foot high Stone Water Tower, which sits outside the entrance to Tower Park.


You'll notice that with the exception of Owensboro, the majority of the cities in our top 10 aren't all that big. Louisville, Lexington, and Bowling Green failed to make the cut, despite their size and all they have to offer to workers, families and retirees. When it came down to it, the smaller cities in our list just had the edge in the happiness department.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in Kentucky

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Fort Thomas1,247.81 in 8,239.019.62.2%$60,5788.7%8.9%18.9%
2Madisonville440.01 in 561.115.75.2%$38,69411.6%18.3%19.4%
3Berea471.61 in 862.418.64.9%$40,06111.2%17.0%19.1%
4Radcliff561.91 in 434.320.58.0%$45,11012.3%16.9%19.6%
5Murray315.51 in 597.9142.9%$31,8829.1%11.0%21.5%
6St. Matthews210.71 in 441.317.33.0%$48,22011.5%17.1%22.4%
7Erlanger592.21 in 847.521.92.3%$58,62711.1%15.1%19.1%
8Lawrenceburg441.71 in 2,660.524.36.9%$48,37115.5%20.9%19.1%
9Owensboro457.31 in 462.015.13.0%$37,76214.2%17.2%20.2%
10Hopkinsville451.61 in 235.116.75.9%$34,66413.9%16.8%21.5%

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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