Virginia: Pretty Darn Satisfied

In the previous post, EMR referred to International Living’s quality-of-life ranking, in which the U.S. scored only No. 7. Not bad, but not exactly consistent with the mantra of many that “We’re No. 1!”

As it happens, Gallup has just produced a “well-being” ranking for the 50 U.S. states (though using a different methodology). What I find interesting is that most Americans are satisfied with the quality of life that their state offers. There is some variation between states, but that variation falls within a relatively narrow range of 82.3% (North Dakota) and 69.0% (Nevada) in terms of percent satisfied.

Virginia falls within the “high” range of satisfaction and, indeed, is the only state east of the Mississippi River to do so. We are an outlier — most states with high well being are clustered among the northwestern plains and mountain states. The least satisfied, not surprisingly, are characterized by high unemployment and/or high poverty. Yet Gallup notes that the correlation between economic outlook and satisfaction is far from perfect. Remarkably, even as the recession deepened last year, satisfaction levels improved modestly across much of the country.

What factors contribute to satisfaction? Gallup sheds little light. One strength of the U.S., I would suggest, is the high degree of mobility that allows people that don’t like where they live to pick up and move. The nation is sufficiently diverse in terms of climate, terrain and culture that you have to be a real misfit not to find a place you’re comfortable with.

Why does Virginia — the 12th most satisfied state in the nation with the seventh highest quality of life in the world — fare so well? Note that we score only a hair higher than Maryland, so the Mid-Atlantic location may be a contributor. (But please note it’s not proximity to Washington, D.C., which has a significantly lower satisfaction rating. We also score significantly higher than our neighbors to the south, in North Carolina.)

If only Gallup were conversant with the concept of human settlement patterns. It would be most interesting to poll readers by human settlement type — farm, rural, village, small town, large metro area, and various densities and varieties of urbanization. I suspect that human settlement patterns would score high as a variable affecting peoples’ satisfaction with where they live.

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26 responses to “Virginia: Pretty Darn Satisfied”

  1. re: " contributor to peoples' satisfaction with where they live."

    that's a tricky concept because is it really conscious satisfaction with WHERE they have consciously decided to locate geographically or is it satisfaction with where they are right now?

    how many people would, for instance, read these rankings and be convinced to quit their job and move to one of the higher-rated places?

    On the other hand – I found this chart interesting – tangentially:

    specifically look at the housing costs and the transportation costs.

    It leaves a really obvious question in my mind. If the housing costs are about the same (as a percentage of income… you just get "less" house in the denser "transit Rich" places) and there is a clear difference between transportation costs of living in "transit rich" and "auto dependent" then the charts imply that folks who live "transit rich" have more discretionary money…"left over" to spend.

    Well.. what would they spend it on?

    and why… if it is discretionary money would they not spend it on "more"/better housing such that the charts would essentially show that folks who live "transit rich" spend more on housing while those who live "auto dependent" spend more on transportation.

    Wouldn't that seem logical?

  2. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views


    We're up there with North and South Dakota!

    Peter Galuszka

  3. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    I want to know what the Dakotas have that we don't have.

  4. perhaps it's what they DONT'T have…

    high housing prices, long commutes, crime, dog-eat-dog lifestyles…

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry is right.

    North Dakota, paradoxically has the shortest average commute among allthe states.

    Must have something to do with that scattered farm living.

    Larry is wrong.

    Some people who livein transit rich areas have lower transwprotation costs, and they also have fewer tranportation options — no car.

    They are sufficient numerically to change the overall average. You would get a different picture if you compare people of similar incomes, probably. People in town also drive smaller cars, lowering their transportation costs.

    What most studies show is that people do make rational choices and consider housing costs and transprotation together. As the article points out, both gas pricesand home prices are volatile, and so what makes sense today, might not tomorrow.

    At least one study has examined the discetionary income situation and found that if you livein houston or Dallas and are car dependent, you will still have much more discretionary income left compared to living in transit heavy Brooklyn.

    Besides, lets face it, a lot of discretionary spending goes into our cars.

    I'm curious about the center graph where other costs are broken out. Isn't insurance part of transportation costs? I don;t think the graphics are telling the whole story.


  6. E M Risse Avatar

    Great Post:

    A lot of good things here:

    What does North Dakota have?

    According to Ellen Hodgson (author of Web of Dept) it has a STATE BANK and because of that it has no housing bubble, the lowest unemployment rate in the US of A, and not just no state budget deficit but the largest budget surplus of any state – $1.2 B. There are lots of other factors but that is a start.

    Jim is very right about those who have the will and ability can get up an move to where they think they will like it better. As we know from 12.5 Percenters, humans find it hard to reconsider their location decisions even bad ones – unless they have to pay the price.

    A big issue with Virginia is this:

    Virginia has one of the most dysfunctional settlement patterns for many reasons. Among them, as Groveton and others like to point out is state-scale domination of location decisions due to a dysfunctional governance structure.

    What makes the settlement patterns bad is a grossly unfair allocation of location variable costs.

    The reason that a lot of folks are “satisfied” with Virginia is that SOMEONE ELSE is picking up much of the cost of their location decisions.

    TMT would point to the Enterprises and their employees at the federal trough, especially in the National Capital SubRegion and in the Hampton Roads NUR.

    Others would point to the money Institutions dump into the National Capital SubRegion to influence governance decisions.

    The list is long.

    Jim Bacon says it would be nice if Gallup was conversant with human settlement pattern implications. Problem is that the citizen’s that Gallup poles have to be conversant with geographic reality too.

    How far that condition is from reality is made clear by David Alpert the author of the table to which Larry G. Provides a link.

    Alpert is right about “silly rankings” but blows it in the second sentence of the second paragraph.

    If one looks at SYNERGY’s map of potential Centroids of Balanced Communities (Beta Communities) every one of the places he mentioned is a ground zero (a purple oval on the map) – if you understand what “Sully” and “Hunter Mill” means. These are places that are approaching and have the potential of achieving a relative Balance of J / H / S / R / A.

    For a complete rundown of the problems of “best places” do a PDF ‘find’ search for that term in SotF 4th Printing.


  7. well I'd be willing to make a little wager that if you ask 1000 residents of NoVa if they could move to North Dakota for the same pay would they – and I bet the rest of the family would threaten divorce and send the guy (or gal) packing on to ND by themselves.

    For all the moaning and groaning about NoVa – many of the people who live here would not trade it for more bucolic digs where there are no Whole Food and Costcos, an GWs and Smithsonian's…

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    You could live pretty well in N Dakota on a NOVA salary, but it is a harsh climate.

    I freeze visiting my sister in NH and she's wandering around in a flannel shirt.

    I guess you get used to it.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I deliberately chose Virginia to move to, more than 3 years ago. That decision was based as much on its scnenic beauty as its financial stability.

    I liked New England but the climate was hard on me, and I spent several weeks every winter with colds and flu.

    I likd North Carolina, too, but the culture was a bit a of caricature for my tastes, and the economy was pretty harsh.

    Virginia was a good decision then,and appaarently it woul stll be a good one today.

    For all our gripes, it is stil worth counting our blessings first.


  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Intersting study of happiness here:

    Virgina come in 27th.

    The first comment is very on point.

    One of the authors of the report, from Science, is from Hamilton NY, just outside Utica.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry woould no doubt complain that things like happiness are too subjective to measure.


  12. North Dakota has the lowest percentage of non-religious people of any state, and it also has the most churches per capita of any state.

  13. and Haiti is more religious than the U.S. – right?

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Lots of good Lutherans (35%) & Catholics (30%) in North Dakota.


  15. you'll find that Religion is quite widespread in many failed states – and plenty involved in disagreements with others not of their own beliefs…

    each to his own – live and let live…

    once you insist that your religion must mean something to me – we've got some issues.

    I don't think religion should have anything at all to do with governance but I'm obviously outnumbered on that thought.

  16. I don't think religion should drive governance either. However, Jim Bacon asked what North Dakota had that Virginia lacked. People in North Dakota are more religious than people in Virginia. They are also the most satisfied people in any state in the country while being the most religious people in the country.


  17. coincidence? could we name some countries that have a very high percentage of religion that are less than happy and in fact, threatening to others?

  18. Funny thing LarryG (and TMT for that matter)…

    USA Today ranked 160+ cities (actually metropolitan areas or, perhaps, NURs) on happiness.

    Guess what?

    Metro DC was #8.

    Virginia Beach (second highest rated in VA) was #31.

    Richmond was #89.

    I didn't have time to look for Fredricksburg – it may be too small to be on the list.

    I thought we were the miserable people in McMansions, driving in traffic jams and living in an auto-centric, strip mall focused world.

    Am I getting this right?

    RoVa is poor AND unhappy (Note: I count Tidewater, along with Northern Virginia, as part of MoVa – Modern Virginia). Meanwhile, stinkin', rotten MoVa has the only 2 places in the Top 75?


  19. like I said.. for all the moaning and groaning that comes from the folks in NoVa.. they know they've got it pretty good …

    we have many NoVa refuges in the Fredericksburg Area and they are the biggest bunch of whiners I have ever seen.

    They came here because they could get more house for their money and pay lower taxes but our services, our roads, our schools, our restaurants, our "night-life", even our 911 is just not up to snuff .. an these folks.. they show up at the budget hearings advocating FOR TAX INCREASES.. and of course subsidies for VRE… also.

    Some of them give up and go back to NoVa but the others are like barking dogs in the night.

  20. Anonymous Avatar


    Your Geographical Illiteracy clouds your preception. You have no idea where you are and so make comments that have no basis in fact.

    I have never seen any data that shows that Greater Fredericksburg is in the Richmond NUR.

    To use Professor Risse's terminology, that means you are in the Washington-Baltimore NUR and thus in the Virginia part of the National Capital SubRegion.


  21. oh RJM… speaking of illiteracy….

    No, we're not part of the Richmond NUR but neither are we a NoVa heritage even though we are technically in the NoVa sphere if for no other reason that we are commuting MECCA for the very folks the you and EMR decry as "sprawlers".

    Sprawlers, in fact, have many bad habits.

    They're not only not satisfied with the local habitat even though they fled the big bad NoVa but then they bleat plaintively that SOMEONE …OWES them a congestion-free commute… that it MUST BE someone else's fault why their route to work is so congested.

    HERDS … ask EMR if he has a vocabluaric place for the word HERD – as in those who migrate from place to pace like hoardes of locust consuming the lions-share of resources then complaining about those who already live here… the stereotypical – alter-come-heres that have the temerity to actually try to work relatively close to where they live.

    Who do those folks THINK THEY ARE – Smart Growthers?

    Funny thing is.. we never knew what Smart Growth really was until the NoVa refugees showed up proselytizing the GREENER than THOU philosophy by driving Prius so they could drive solo in the HOV lanes.


  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Note to Groveton:

    You can live a self-sufficient, healthy active, god-fearing, conservative, lifestyle and, give ten percent to charity, 25% to government, save 10% for retirement and 15% for medical emergencies —- and still get wiped out in a heartbeat.

    All you have to do is figure out how to live on half of your income, or less.

    Pretty tough to do when your starting point is $25k – or less.


  23. Anonymous Avatar

    they show up at the budget hearings advocating FOR TAX INCREASES.. and of course subsidies for VRE… also.


    What was that yousaid about majority rule? They have the right to advocate for tax increases, no?


  24. Anonymous Avatar

    "…GREENER than THOU philosophy by driving Prius so they could drive solo in the HOV lanes."


    Easy now, you are hitting close to home.

    We used the (previously underused) HOV lanes as a (pretty much free, since they were already built) incentive for people to drive more efficient cars. A single person driving a prius 25 iles or more is a lot more (energy) efficient and less polluting than four people sharing a normal SUV for ten miles.

    We created certain rules and some people choose to act on that. Then we turn around and say that THEY are "gaming the system".

    The fact remains that with the hybrid rules in place the HOV lanes are getting more use than ever before, so that resource is better utilized. The hybrids do use fewer (fuel) resources than their predecessors, and they are pretty nice cars besides, which is hard to say for a Yarus, or a Fit, or a Smart, or other subcompacts that can almost get similar economy.

    I don't see that this kind of personal castigation gets us anywhere in terms of actually creating social policy that works well and obeys the Golden Rule.

    If the point of th eHOV lanes is to get people to travel together, well, they have pretty much failed that test. We now have initiatives designed to PAY people to operate car pools, which is just recognition of the fact that merely providing HOV lanes was insufficient incentive.

    What is the difference between having someone buy a fuel efficient vehicle as a "ticket" to the HOV lanes, vs simply letting anyone buy a ticket regardless of what kind of social insult they drive? Isn't that what HOT lanes will do?

    It is important to keep your eye on the ultimate goal here: give the most people the most freedom at the lowest cost, with the least insult to each other.

    Otherwise we are like hens in the yard running around with our beady eyes and our beaks to the ground. "Here's a problem, peck, peck peck." "There's a problem, peck, peck peck." "Everywhere a problem, peck, peck".

    And of course when we discover the henyard is a foot deep in chicken litter, none of it is our fault, it is all the new guys that cause all that crap to happen.


  25. Anonymous Avatar

    Sissy Spacek claims Virginia as home, pushes film industry

    Today's WAPO

    Another Happy camper.


  26. Anonymous Avatar

    The first-ever health ranking of the nation's counties is designed to give local public health leaders the information — and the competitive incentive — to make their communities healthier places to live. It ranks counties, within each state, on two scales: "factors'' that influence health, such as smoking rates, the number of liquor stores and poverty; and "outcomes'' such as longevity and self-reported health.

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