Living in the city vs. suburbs: Which one is better for you?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, which living location is the fairest of them all? Depending on your lifestyle, living in the city vs. suburbs will give you different pros and cons.

City living is perfect for those who love a fast-paced and bustling lifestyle. For the people who prefer tranquility and cheaper rent, you should make your way to the suburbs.

This is the first part of our City vs. Suburbs Master Guide. We'll be covering anything from the cost of living to the rental market to the transportation differences between both areas. Later, we'll go over the key differences between work opportunities, lifestyle and more! 😎

What’s the difference between city and suburb living? 

So, how do cities vary from the suburbs? The suburbs are your family-friendly areas. They surround city areas and have lots of parks, schools, and residential homes. 

In contrast, cities come with a whole lot more people and noise. The dense population means that cities have a higher standard of life and cost of living.

City living

Cities are your well-developed, largely populated regions. You'll find lots of commercial buildings, high rises, roads, and advanced transit systems.

Since city populations start at 100,000 inhabitants, they're usually much more overcrowded. An estimated 83% of the American population resides in cities

They’re also continuously expanding- showing rapid economic and demographic growth every year.

Suburban living

Unlike city areas, suburban areas offer a more relaxed pace of life.

The suburbs appeal the most to families and city workers. The bustle of the city is too chaotic, so residential areas are the perfect option for them. 

You'll find many single-family homes and apartments in the suburbs. Small shops, schools, and green spaces are also very prevalent. 

How does cost of living vary?

 Why is being a city-dweller a lot more expensive than being a suburbanite?

Many factors make up the high cost of living in the city. On the other hand, suburban residents don't get off completely unscathed. They have to consider travel, time, and parking costs.  

Let's go over all the factors that contribute to the differing expenses in both areas.

Affordability

 It's no secret that living in the city is more costly than living in the suburbs.

Cities are desirable, and supply-and-demand are high. That's why the cost of living comes at a hefty price. Here's a list of items that are more expensive in the city than in the suburbs.

▪️ Rent

▪️ Food/ Dining

▪️ Childcare

▪️ Gym Memberships

▪️ Gas

▪️ Entertainment

▪️ Shopping

▪️ Parking

▪️ Insurance

▪️ Tax Rates

The Cost of Living Index score for the US average fares at 100. If we look at the scores for the biggest cities across the US, some reach up to 187. But when looking at the scores for small cities or suburbs, they tend to range between the 80s. That's a jaw-dropping difference! 😱

This leap of 87 points means that on average, the cost of living is 87% more expensive. Meanwhile, the suburbs are around 20% cheaper.

Income 

The answer we all want to know is whether a city salary is higher than that of a suburban worker. Since living in urban areas costs so much more, are workers earning enough to cover the disparity?

To begin, median pay ranges depending on every state or city. While the annual average salary in San Jose is $99,600, in cities like Houston, the average salary drops to $71,900. Yet, data shows that the national average income is higher in suburban communities.

The average household income in the suburbs is $101,000. In urban core counties, the average household income was only $92,000.

What about the rental market?

The rental market between the suburbs and the city does come with its differences as well. 

In the suburbs, most rental properties are basements, guest homes, or single-family homes. Private landlords are also a lot more prevalent because of it.

The suburbs still give you the option to rent an apartment though. However, the quantity and availability are much lower than in the city.

On the flip side, apartment buildings dominate the real estate market in the city. You'll have many options to pick from and a greater opportunity to find an apartment you truly love.

When talking about price, the average monthly cost of rent is $1,269 in the suburbs. The average cost of rent in the US is $1,848 per month. Now, that's a pretty big price difference!

The cost of rent diverges even more when looking at rent in the biggest cities throughout the nation.

In Boston and Dallas, the average monthly rent is $3,659 and $1,715. However, in suburban areas, the rent prices drop to $2,208 and $1,026, respectively. 😲

Transportation matters

Your daily commute is going to fare a little different depending on where you live. Let's take a look at the different methods of transportation.

Public transportation

 Traffic congestion has become a real problem in urban cores. Due to this, city people use public transportation to get to where they want.  Additionally, larger cities have well-developed subway systems. This makes it quick and easy to get around without a car.

On the flip side, suburban areas have very basic transit systems. Bus routes or train lines are scarce, making transit slower, harder, and less frequent.

For our public transportation users though, we've got some good news. The American Public Transportation Association says that public transportation is much more cost-effective. Those who take the bus or train for their daily commute save over $847 per month! 🙌

Nonetheless, public transportation does come with its challenges. High peak hours mean that buses or trains become very congested and uncomfortable. The cherry on the top is that many transit systems regularly break down, delay, or malfunction. 

Just like everything in life- there are pros and cons to both sides. 

Walkability

Cities naturally have higher walkability scores than the suburbs. All the streets, intersections, and close buildings make it easier to get around on foot. The accessible public transit is also a huge bonus! 🙌

In suburban areas, the lack of shorter streets and intersections makes it too far to walk to most places. Its vastness makes these areas a lot less walkable and inaccessible on foot.

Cars

Many people who live in the suburbs have to resort to getting cars.

The reality is that most suburban public transit systems are not well-developed. The commute to the city becomes too expensive, too long, or impossible. That leaves one of the few options: getting a car.

After a few years, it becomes worthwhile as you end up saving money and time.

There is a downside though. In most large cities, traffic congestion and parking difficulties are real hassles. We also found out that the growing congestion adds up to about 17 extra hours of commuting per year. 😓

Now, owning a car in the city is a completely different story. The car, gas, maintenance, and insurance costs are very expensive. City parking is also very limited.

That's why using public transportation in the city is the more affordable option.

Work opportunities

City areas will always offer more work opportunities than suburban regions.

Many businesses and companies have headquarters located in city cores. Paired with that comes the thriving social, cultural, and nightlife scene. As a result, they have more jobs in the arts, entertainment, and service industry.

A 2019 analysis by Bloomberg CityLab studied employment growth rates. They found that large metropolitan areas had the fastest job growth rates at around 1.6%. Suburban communities saw the slowest job growth at a rate of 0.45% that year.

However, they still have many work opportunities! Suburban areas offer plenty of minimum wage positions.

There's also an abundance of jobs available, which include the following.

  • Petroleum, Mining, Geological Engineers
  • Sales Engineers
  • Chemical or Mechanical Engineers
  • Avionics Technicians
  • Claims Appraisers, Investigators, Examiners, or Adjusters
  • Bill and Account Collectors
  • Computer Network Architects
  • Air Traffic Control or Airfield Operations Specialist

Depending on your occupation, you may have better luck finding a job in the suburbs! 😄

Education

We can find schools all over the US. Yet, residential areas like the suburbs have more elementary and secondary schools. In contrast, cities have more universities and colleges. 

There are 16% more elementary and secondary schools in suburban versus urban areas. Nearly 10% more children attend schools in the suburbs throughout the country.

However, many post-secondary institutions are in the urban cores. There are almost 4,000 colleges and universities across the U.S, most of them being in city centers.😲

Living in the suburbs may also be a better option for you if you have a family. There are way more school options and the environment is more suitable for children.

The city may be more beneficial if you're a college-goer. Living near your campus means shorter commutes and being around your college friends.

Lifestyle 

According to experts, living a happy lifestyle alleviates stress and health issues. The place you live contributes to your health, so you should pick wisely.

Your rental search should bear in mind various lifestyle factors. Let's go over some items to consider. 

Core demographic 

The core demographic between cities and the suburbs presents its distinct differences.

The biggest demographic that lives in the suburbs are families and the older population. This includes children under 18, adults of all ages, and Americans over the age of 65.

Young adults and working professionals (people between 24-45) mostly reside in urban cores. Why do young and middle-aged adults mostly live in the city, you may ask? City living is more appealing because of lifestyle and work opportunities. 😄

More culturally diverse and ethnic groups are also found in urban areas. The highest share of immigrants mainly lives in urban communities.

Activities, entertainment & nightlife

Cities have a plethora of activities or entertainment options to offer.

You can find museums, art galleries, and sports stadiums. But it doesn't stop there! Nightclubs, popular landmarks, and entertainment arenas are also mainly found in urban cores. Most cultural or social events are usually hosted in cities, as well.

Looking to be in the center of the arts, entertainment, or music scene? Moving to the city may be the right choice for you! 😏

Suburban areas do offer their own unique activities to do too.

They have way more green spaces than the city. That means more opportunities for outdoor sports and activities, like hiking or fishing. If you enjoy spending your time outside, living in the suburbs will fit your lifestyle better.

Dining

High-density areas, like cities, will always offer a variety of dining options. This includes fast food, fine dining, cafés, mom-and-pop restaurants, or coffee shops.

Since urban areas are more diverse, cuisines from all over the world are also available. You may very well find the best pizza, tacos, and sushi all on the same street!

On the other hand, suburban areas have fewer options when it comes to dining. Most of your dining options will be fast food or chain restaurants. There are a few small standalone restaurants, but options are limited. 😭

It's always best to head into the city if you're looking for a large dining selection.

Space

It'll come as no surprise that living in the city will translate to living in smaller spaces.

The congested nature of urban cores limits the amount of space available. Meanwhile, the suburbs are more vast. This allows for homes and apartments to come in bigger sizes.

It was recorded that the cost per square footage for an urban home was $198, versus $156 in the suburbs. 😰

How much space do you get when living in the city?

Skyscrapers, office buildings, and commercial properties. Cities have all of those- meaning there’s not much room around.

The average apartment size in the U.S. ranges from 837 to 975 square feet. However, city apartments are an average of 300 square feet smaller. 😲

Massive cities like New York have also started putting micro-apartments on the market. To meet market demand, rapidly growing cities are creating smaller apartments.

It was also found that from 2008 to 2018, apartment sizes declined by an average of 5.2%.

If you decide to live in an apartment in the city, you will probably have to compromise on living space.

How much space do you get when living in the suburbs? 

Low-density areas, like the suburbs, will always have more acreage to work with versus cities. As a result, house lots and apartment sizes are much larger.

The good news is that more green spaces, open areas, and parks are also found in the suburbs. The Green City Index says that having access to green spaces is connected to a higher quality of life. Many studies support this claim. Green spaces have been found to help anxiety or depression symptoms (which is always important).

On top of having more living space, these regions are a lot less overcrowded and polluted.

Among all environments, urban areas produce 78% of carbon emissions and airborne pollutants. 😲

So, if you decide to live in the suburbs, you'll have ample room to appreciate the fresh air and outdoors. A bonus is that you won't have to compromise on what personal belongings you can bring.

Crime rates

According to crime statistics, population size correlates to crime rates. The larger the community, the higher the crime rates.

Given this information, city crime rates are always greater than suburban areas.

Statistics even show that urban areas have property and violent crime rates 3-4 times higher than in rural communities.

Despite this, the Brookings Institution evaluated crime rates between 1990 and 2008. Thankfully, they found that crime rates dropped.

Violent crime rates fell by nearly 30%, while property crime rates declined 46% in cities. 

Conclusion

This concludes this hefty guide on cities vs. suburbs! We hope it shed some light on whether the city or the suburbs would best suit you. 😊

Our mission at Lighthouse is to make the rental process easier for just about any person. If you're looking for an apartment, and don't mind getting some cash back on rent (who wouldn't? 😅), we're here for you! You can work with one of our team members (we call ourselves Lightkeepers) for free!