A recent Washington Post story about the cooling off of Loudoun County’s once-sizzling real-estate market portrays homeowners of the suburban and exurban Northern Virginia enclave pouting over their flattening home values and highway-clogging commutes into DC.
But SmartAsset, one of those personal-finance websites that also ranks things, says Loudoun County residents have nothing to be glum about: the county tops the site’s ranking of the “Happiest Places in America,” with neighboring Fairfax County in second place.
SmartAsset reviewed data from nearly 1,000 counties with populations of at least 50,000, examining factors like the ratio of income to cost of living, marriage and rates, life expectancy, physical activity, poverty rate, and unemployment. For the second year in a row, Loudoun had the highest aggregate score. In particular, SmartAsset credited Loudoun for unemployment and poverty rates below 4 percent and an income ratio of 2.5, meaning that the median income is two-and-a-half times greater than the cost of living.
After Loudoun and Fairfax counties, the Washington metropolitan area was also represented by seventh-happiest Howard County. The rest of the list includes places like Carver County, Minnesota; Chester County, Pennsylvania; Douglas County, Colorado; and Hunterdon, Morris, and Somerset counties in New Jersey. And while SmartAsset dances around it linguistically, there is a high correlation between this “happiness” ranking and a list of the wealthiest counties in the United States.
Loudoun’s median household income—$123,966 in 2014, according to the Census Bureau—is the country’s highest, with Fairfax and Howard counties second and third. The three New Jersey counties on the happiness list are also among the ten wealthiest counties, as is Douglas County.
But there’s not a perfect correlation between wealth and happiness: Carver County and Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, don’t rank among the top 25 counties for median household income, yet both made the happy list. Meanwhile, Arlington and Montgomery counties both show up regularly among the highest-earning counties, yet couldn’t even crack SmartAsset’s expanded list of the 25 happiest counties.