Study: Happiest Cities in Nebraska


When you're happy, you're nice. Nebraskans view nice as a way of life — it's literally their state slogan. Life may move at a slower pace in the heartland, but in turn, those who live here don't have to deal with the fuss and drama that run the lives of those who have settled into the faster-paced world.

Residents in the Cornhusker State have other reasons to be happy too — particularly in the 10 cities we’re highlighting below. These are the places where housing doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, crime rates are low, and marriages are more likely to last. Read on to find out the happiest cities in Nebraska.

Study Methodology

To begin, we gathered U.S. Census and FBI crime data for localities with a population of 5,000 or more. Each city was assigned a ranking based on how it scored in each of these seven factors:

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

Just about everyone in Nebraska has a favorite hangout spot, but some cities have more places to choose from than others. To see where you've got the most spots to spend a night on the town, we looked at the number of restaurants per capita for our rankings.

Crime isn't something you see too much of in the Midwest, but of course, every city is different. Our next study measure is based on the odds of being the victim of a violent crime in each city.

Fortunately for some workers, the average commute is much shorter in many of the cities in our study, which are outside of the larger metro areas like Omaha and Lincoln.

Hopping out of bed bright and early may lead to higher levels of happiness and satisfaction, according to scientific research. The next thing we considered for our study is the percentage of residents in each city who leave for work before 5 a.m.

If you're feeling shortchanged at work, it can definitely have an impact on your attitude. We measured how well workers are doing financially based on each city's median household income.

Relationships play a big part in our level of happiness. We factored marital satisfaction into our study by looking for the places that have the lowest percentages of divorced residents.

Nebraska offers an excellent cost of living, especially where housing is concerned. We've broken down the expense for each city by calculating the percentage of income residents spend to rent or own a home.

10 Happiest Cities in Nebraska

10. Fremont

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 369 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 918.7
  • Average commute time: 16.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.4%
  • Median household income: $46,064
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.5% of males, 12.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.8%

If you're looking for a place that will turn your frown upside down, Fremont may be the one. Located about 35 miles northwest of Omaha, this city of 26,000 people features all the amenities you could desire in a hometown. Some of the highlights include the low violent crime rate, an average commute of under 17 minutes and housing costs that equal less than 19% of residents' income.

Did You Know: The city is named for John C. Fremont, who led survey expeditions of the Oregon Trail and the Oregon Territory.

9. York

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 302 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,964.3
  • Average commute time: 11.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.8%
  • Median household income: $42,877
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.7% of males, 11.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.6%

York, a delightful little town of about 7,800 people, is about 50 miles west of Lincoln. It's overflowing with charm, and residents appreciate its cozy, welcoming feel. York is exceptionally safe as far as the violent crime rate goes, and the average commute of under 12 minutes is a major plus for workers. Moreover, housing is a steal and homes sell for much less compared to some of Nebraska's other cities.

Did You Know: Director Fred Niblo, who helmed notable silent films such as Ben Hur and The Mark of Zorro, was born in York.

8. McCook

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 383 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 966.9
  • Average commute time: 11 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1%
  • Median household income: $43,396
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 7.3% of males, 11.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 16%

Whether you're starting a business or raising a family, McCook is an ideal place to put down roots. From the historic downtown area to the city's newer neighborhoods, you're sure to see plenty of smiling faces. Safety isn't much of a concern among the 7,600 people who live here, and they don't appear to be overburdened by their housing costs. If you're looking for a place to get together with friends or take a date, you can't go wrong with the Coppermill Steakhouse.

Did You Know: The Harvey P. Sutton House on Norris Avenue is believed to be the only home in Nebraska designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

7. Ralston

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 327 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 868.1
  • Average commute time: 17.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 7.8%
  • Median household income: $55,000
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 10.4% of males, 16.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.3%

Just southwest of Omaha is the city of Ralston, which is home to about 7,100 people. It scored the number seven spot for having the highest percentage of residents who leave for work before the crack of dawn, but that's not the only reason folks have to be happy. Judging by the median income, they should be pleased with the size of their paychecks and the amount they have to shell out for housing.

Did You Know: The Ralston Arena is home to several local sports teams, including the Omaha Lancers and the Omaha Heart women's football team.

6. Papillion

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 630 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 2,433.3
  • Average commute time: 21.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.7%
  • Median household income: $73,988
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 5.7% of males, 10.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.7%

Papillion is situated just a few miles south of Ralston, and it's one of the Omaha metro area's most desirable communities. The city's nearly 21,000 residents earn the highest median income in our study, at almost $74,000, and less than 19% of that goes to housing. Another plus: Papillion's neighborhoods rank second overall for safety. And there are a number of places to mingle with old friends or make new ones, with the Nebraska Brewing Company a hit among locals.

Did You Know: In 2013, Papillion was recognized by Bloomberg BusinessWeek as the best place to raise kids in Nebraska.

5. Blair

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 307 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,152.7
  • Average commute time: 18.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.3%
  • Median household income: $56,946
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 5.4% of males, 11% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.2%

The almost 8,000 people who live in Blair would probably tell you that it really is the best of both worlds. While it's definitely one of the smaller towns on our list, it still manages to convey a sense of big city living. The divorce rate is lower here compared to some of the other cities in our study and violent crime is rare, so there is a sense of peace in Blair. Great schools and reasonably priced housing only add to its reputation.

Did You Know: Some of the most popular outdoor attractions near Blair include the DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges.

4. Columbus

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 375 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,126.9
  • Average commute time: 14.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 6.3%
  • Median household income: $48,123
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 13.1% of males, 13.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.4%

Columbus is our fourth ranking city and its 22,500 residents have no trouble putting on a happy face. It got the second-best rating based on the number of workers who are hitting the roads early, and it also scored well for how long it takes them to reach their destination. Violent crime is uncommon, and there's no shortage of affordable housing. If you want to unwind after a long day, a visit to Dusters is the perfect pick-me-up.

Did You Know: Glur's Tavern, which dates back to Nebraska’s wild west days, counts Buffalo Bill Cody among its most famous patrons.

3. Sidney

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 296 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 754.3
  • Average commute time: 10.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.1%
  • Median household income: $47,192
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.8% of males, 12.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 16.7%

Just under 7,000 people live in Sidney, making it the smallest city in our study in terms of population. It ranked higher than some of our larger cities for having the highest number of restaurants per capita and the shortest commute time (10.5 minutes). It's also a winner when it comes to housing costs, with residents spending less than 17% of pay on a home. If you're wondering where the best places to eat are, check out what's cooking at Oya Grill.

Did You Know: Sidney was known for being one of the wildest cities on the frontier, and was dubbed the "Wickedest Town in the West" during the late 1800s.

2. Gering

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 386 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 2,859.3
  • Average commute time: 14.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.3%
  • Median household income: $50,850
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 7.2% of males, 13.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.7%

The city of Gering made it to the number two spot with the best violent crime rate in our study. About 8,500 residents live in this western Nebraska town, and it doesn't look like they'll be moving anytime soon. Getting to work takes less than 15 minutes on average, and the median income of $51,000 won't leave you feeling broke. Home buyers and renters alike are thankful for how easy housing costs are on their wallets.

Did You Know: Gering sits adjacent to the Scotts Bluff National Monument, a major landmark of the Oregon Trail.

1. Seward

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 414 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,165.8
  • Average commute time: 17.7 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.1%
  • Median household income: $60,649
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 3.6% of males, 7.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 14.9%

Seward is the top city in our study overall, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out why. It has the lowest combined divorce rate as well as the lowest housing costs, based on income. Speaking of income, the 7,000 people who live here take home a liberal median household income of around $60,000, the second highest in our study. The scarcity of violent crime and great restaurants like Cafe on the Square also contribute to the residents' good mood.

Did You Know: Seward is known as Nebraska's "Official 4th of July City" thanks to its annual Independence Day celebration.


If your hometown is nowhere to be found or you're wondering why we didn't include Lincoln and Omaha, it really comes down to our study measures. Any of Nebraska's cities could have made our list, but the ones that ranked in the top 10 exemplify the kinds of characteristics that you'd expect in the happiest of places.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in Nebraska

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Seward414.31 in 1,165.817.75.1%$60,6493.6%7.9%14.9%
2Gering386.01 in 2,859.314.65.3%$50,8507.2%13.5%17.7%
3Sidney296.01 in 754.310.54.1%$47,1929.8%12.5%16.7%
4Columbus375.21 in 1,126.914.16.3%$48,12313.1%13.2%17.4%
5Blair307.11 in 1,152.718.22.3%$56,9465.4%11.0%17.2%
6Papillion629.81 in 2,433.321.13.7%$73,9885.7%10.4%18.7%
7Ralston326.71 in 868.117.67.8%$55,00010.4%16.5%19.3%
8McCook382.61 in 966.9111.0%$43,3967.3%11.7%16%
9York301.71 in 1,964.311.52.8%$42,8779.7%11.4%17.6%
10Fremont368.51 in 918.716.55.4%$46,0649.5%12.6%18.8%

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. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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