Study: Most Stressful Cities in North Carolina

Underneath the happy images of tourists frolicking on the Outer Banks and diners enjoying the fine pork barbecue that North Carolinians enjoy year round lies signs of stress. Work, relationships, cost of living, and crime are all real concerns for residents in North Carolina, in some areas of the state more than others. Read on to find the 10 most stressful cities to live in North Carolina.

Study Methodology

  1. Odds of being a victim of violent crime
  2. Commute time
  3. Average hours worked per week
  4. Percentage of divorcees
  5. Percentage of income spent on housing

We first looked at crime statistics from the FBI to calculate the likelihood of becoming a victim of violent crime. Crime can make navigating one’s neighborhood stressful and affects one’s sense of security. Residents of safer cities are more relaxed when they don’t have to worry about their physical safety.

Next we looked at U.S. Census data to calculate the average daily commute and work week that residents endure in each city. No matter what your occupation is, work can sometimes get stressful, and the stress adds up the longer you are away from home.

Another common source of stress is romantic relationships, especially when they’re on the brink of collapse. We looked at the percentage of divorcees in each city to find where the biggest proportion of residents have experienced marital stress firsthand.

Lastly, we looked at the percentage of income that residents spend on housing. Housing is usually the most expensive part of anyone’s list of expenses. For those spending a larger percentage of their monthly income on their rent or mortgage than other folks, you can bet that they have to employ extra budgeting tactics to make ends meet.

Using the above five measures, we ranked each city in each category and then calculated an average based on the combination of their rankings. The cities we found to be the most stressful may not have dominated in one individual category, but their average score put them in our top 10.

10 Most Stressful Cities in North Carolina

10. Holly Springs

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 1,837.1 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 28.7 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 40.5
  • Percentage of divorcees: 6.5% of males, 10.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 20.4%

Holly Springs is a small city that owes its unique name to the holly trees and freshwater springs that were found there at its inception. It experienced a number of setbacks due to the Civil War, World War I, and the Great Depression. Luckily, the city demonstrated its ability to survive through the difficult times and is currently a city of 26,865 residents. Holly Springs is both safe and family-friendly, which is evident in its low crime rate of 1 in 1,837 inhabitants. Besides being the safest city on our list, housing costs in Holly Springs are the lowest in relation to the median annual income. However, residents spend a relatively high average of 28.7 minutes in traffic during their morning commute and work 40.7 hours a week. Both the crime rate and affordable housing make Holly Springs a desirable city to call home, but our data shows that traffic and long work hours may make life in Holly Springs rather stressful.

Did you know: It pays to stay calm under pressure. Although Mrs. Leslie hated the Union Army when they invaded Holly Springs during the Civil War and took over her house, she was apparently able to save her home from being destroyed with her charm and civility. The Leslie-Alford-Mims House still stands to this day and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

9. New Bern

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 185.2 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 19.4 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.5
  • Percentage of divorcees: 10.4% of males, 12.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 28%

The quaint city of New Bern sits where the Trent and Neuse rivers meet in eastern North Carolina. It is named after Bern, Switzerland, where its founder, Christoph von Graffenreid, emigrated from. Although it is a modest town of 30,316 residents, it was actually the capital of the North Carolina colonial government and the biggest city in North Carolina during the Federalist era. New Bern residents face their share of daily problems, but work and traffic aren’t high on the list. Locals commute less than 20 minutes on average each day and work only 38.5 hours a week. What earned New Bern its #9 ranking on our list is the high percentage of divorcees and the high percentage of income that residents spend on housing. Relationship and money woes have the potential to make life difficult for the locals of New Bern.

Did you know: Although New Bern is home to a high percentage of divorcees, resident Nicholas Sparks has kept his romantic idealism intact. Sparks is the author of the romantic novel and New York Times Best Seller, The Notebook.

8. Wake Forest

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 640.4 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 29.2 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 39.3
  • Percentage of divorcees: 7.9% of males, 8.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 22.8%

Wake Forest is between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the seashore in the Triangle metropolitan area. It was first formed when the North Carolina Baptist Convention bought 615 acres to build an institute for ministers-in-training. Motivated by the lack of space and money, the Wake Forest College sold plots of land for residences and businesses, and in time the town of Wake Forest had a railroad depot and new industries. The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary now sits where the original Wake Forest Institute first began. Residents of Wake Forest have been described as intelligent and of moral character, which may have an impact on its low crime and divorce rates. What probably keeps Wake Forest residents on edge are the long hours that they spend working and the long commute they endure daily. Locals spend 29.2 minutes commuting to work each day, which is the longest commute time on our list.

Did you know: Wake Forest residents can take a break from traffic and work at the Olde English Tea Room. They serve an assortment of quiches, scones, and teas in a quaint Victorian setting.

7. Garner

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 413.1 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 25.6 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 39.7
  • Percentage of divorcees: 7.8% of males, 12.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 22%

Garner is another small town in Wake County that is less than eight miles south of Raleigh. Locals boast that they live closer to downtown Raleigh than many Raleigh residents do. Housing costs are low in comparison to the local median income, and the crime rate is also relatively low. However, residents work almost 40 hours per week and commute more than 50 minutes to and from work. Garner also has a high percentage of divorced women, demonstrating that many women have gone through stressful relationships. Living in Garner definitely comes at a price, and locals pay with their time and peace of mind.

Did you know: Butterball, well-known for turkeys, is located just outside of Garner. The company’s Turkey Talk-line takes the stress out of the holiday season by providing turkey cooking advice. Supposedly the hotline takes 200,000 calls during the holiday season.

6. Gastonia

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 161.7 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 23.7 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.3
  • Percentage of divorcees: 10.3% of males, 12.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.5%

Gastonia, about 23 miles from Charlotte, is the largest city in Gaston County. If its slogan “Great Place. Great People. Great Promise” is any indication, Gastonia is a desirable place to live. But look beyond the surface and you’ll see some cracks. Our data shows that residents work an average number of hours and don’t have to commute very long to get to work, but they have to spend a large percentage of their income on housing each month and they have to worry about crime more than residents of other nearby cities. A large percentage of residents are also divorced.

5. Goldsboro

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 118.9 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 17.5 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 39.9
  • Percentage of divorcees: 10.1% of males, 14.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.7%

This eastern North Carolina city on the coastal plain has ideal terrain for agriculture. Visitors can unwind with wine tastings at local vineyards, strawberry picking at local farms, or touring of the Mount Olive Pickle Company. But during the workweek, they have a hard time feeling relief with long hours worked per week topped off by tiresome commutes. And Goldsboro has the highest crime rate on our list, which goes against the stereotype of a safe small town. The long work week and high percentage of divorcees also paints a picture of a city where a personal life (and romantic relationships) may take a backseat to the demands of work

Did you know: Visitors to Goldsboro don’t stress when they see an F-15 E Strike Eagle jet flying over the city. Goldsboro is home to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, which has one of the most distinguished fighter units in the country.

4. Burlington

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 126.7 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 21 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.6
  • Percentage of divorcees: 12.5% of males, 15.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.1%

Burlington is a small city on the Carolina Corridor in Alamance County. The city has undergone many reincarnations, first as a railroad headquarters, then as a textile manufacturing hub, and more recently, as home to the Laboratory Corporation of America. Burlington has always managed to adapt to the times, which hopefully helps residents roll with the punches in their daily lives as well. Residents spend relatively few hours working each week, but our research shows that Burlington residents deal with more stress than meets the eye due to the high crime rate and the high percentage of divorcees. Just over 12% of men are divorced in Burlington, which is the highest percentage of all the cities on our list.

Did you know: The Burlington Conservators Center is home to the most relaxed binturong, or bearcat, in North Carolina. Despite being declawed, partly blind, and missing part of his tail, Asong Lobo has adapted to each setback and is as happy as can be.

3. Monroe

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 152.3 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 25.2 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 38.9
  • Percentage of divorcees: 7.9% of males, 10.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24%

Monroe is the county seat of Union County, one of the fastest-growing counties in North Carolina. As a hub on the Carolina Central Railway, Monroe was a center of agriculture and commerce. Its real beginnings as a city started only when the transient Railroad Men, or traveling salesmen, began to settle down and call Monroe home. The idyllic scenery that can be found in Monroe is deceiving – Monroe didn’t earn its #3 ranking on our list for no reason. Monroe’s crime rate is one of the highest on our list, and although the time residents spend in traffic and at work isn’t the longest on our list, residents still devote a large amount of time to both activities.

Did you know: Monroe is no stranger to tension, as it was the focus of national attention during the Civil Rights Movement. Monroe was used as a base for some of the Freedom Riders, who aimed to desegregate interstate bus travel, and was also the site of the infamous Kissing Case, where two young African-American boys were convicted of molestation for kissing a white classmate on the cheek.

2. Cornelius

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 437.3 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 26.4 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 40.8
  • Percentage of divorcees: 9.8% of males, 13.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 21.1%

The town of Cornelius can be found on the shores of Lake Norman, just 20 miles north of Charlotte. Cornelius might not have existed had it not been for a cotton dispute in the nearby town of Davidson. According to historians, two cotton firms couldn’t agree on hiring an official cotton weigher, and when one was hired, one cotton firm moved outside of the town limits. When they created their own cotton mill, they relied on Joseph Benjamin Cornelius to provide the money needed, and Cornelius the town was born. At first glance, it may seem like Cornelius residents don’t have much to worry about, but our data shows that residents don’t have it easy. Residents spend a lot of time commuting through traffic each day, and they work more than 40 hours a week. The high percentage of divorced women also reveals that some residents’ love lives have seen their share of suffering.

Did you know: Cornelius may be stressful, but at least there are ample opportunities to relax on Lake Norman, the largest man-made freshwater lake in North Carolina. Locals can fish, take a chartered cruise, or learn how to paddle board.

1. Fayetteville

  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 173.7 inhabitants
  • Commute time: 19.9 minutes
  • Average hours worked per week: 42.5
  • Percentage of divorcees: 10.1% of males, 15.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.9%

Fayetteville is the county seat of Cumberland County, and as the neighbor to Fort Bragg, was voted “America’s Most Pro-Military Town” by Time magazine. Fayetteville residents take great pride in their military identity and the important role that their city played in the nation’s history. It is the first town to be named after Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette and also the only such town to be visited by him personally. When looking at our data, it is easy to see why it ranked as the most stressful city. Its crime rate of 1 in 173.7 inhabitants isn’t the highest on our list, but is pretty high compared to other cities. Without a doubt, residents work hard in Fayetteville, around 42.5 hours weekly on average. A high percentage of Fayetteville’s female residents are divorced. Crime, long work hours, and marital stress give Fayetteville its #1 ranking as the most stressful city in North Carolina.

Did you know: Fayetteville residents may worry about crime, but they should know that they have more protection than the average city. The Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Co., formed in 1793 under the Militia Act by George Washington, still exists as a ceremonial unit.

North Carolina might make a relaxing vacation destination, but living there is another story. Like any state, North Carolinians’ experiences can run the gamut from relaxing to frenetic, but it all depends on which city they call home. Whether you’re a long-time resident or a newcomer to the above cities, it’s good to know how your city measures up so you can navigate the stress you might encounter.

The Top 10 Most Stressful Cities in North Carolina

RankCityViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute TimeAverage Hours Worked% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Fayetteville1 in 173.719.942.510.1%15.9%24.9%
2Cornelius1 in 437.326.440.89.8%13.7%21.1%
3Monroe1 in 152.325.238.97.9%10.5%24%
4Burlington1 in 126.72138.612.5%15.2%24.1%
5Goldsboro1 in 118.917.539.910.1%14.5%24.7%
6Gastonia1 in 161.723.738.310.3%12.3%24.5%
7Garner1 in 413.125.639.77.8%12.8%22%
8Wake Forest1 in 640.429.239.37.9%8.6%22.8%
9New Bern1 in 185.219.438.510.4%12.5%28%
10Holly Springs1 in 1,837.128.740.56.5%10.7%20.4%

1Treated as one combined metric for ranking purposes (at a 50:50 male to female ratio).

Cassy Parker is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Cassy Parker at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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