Population and Social Characteristics

Massachusetts' Best Counties to Live In

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Every year in the United States, tens of millions of Americans move to a new home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the bulk of these moves are motivated by personal circumstances, often relating to housing, family, or employment. But when it comes to deciding on a place to live, it can also be helpful to weigh other, less subjective factors.

As a means of gauging and comparing degrees of development between countries — beyond standard measures like gross domestic product and economic growth — the United Nations created the Human Development Index. By accounting for factors related to health and well-being, educational attainment, and standards of living, the HDI offers an assessment of overall quality of life at the individual level within a given geography.

When applied to communities within the United States, the core principles of the HDI reveal that some parts of the country are far better places to live than others.

Using an index inspired by the HDI, 24/7 Wall St. identified the best counties in Massachusetts to live in. Counties are ranked on a combination of three measures – average life expectancy at birth, the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the poverty rate. Of the 14 counties in Massachusetts, we ranked the 10 with the highest HDI score.

Across all of Massachusetts, average life expectancy at birth is 80.2 years. Additionally, 9.9% of the population live below the poverty line and 45.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of the 10 counties on this list, three compare favorably to the state as a whole in each of these metrics.

Among these 10 Massachusetts counties, average life expectancy at birth ranges from about 79 years to 83 years. Meanwhile, poverty rates vary between 4.9% and 17.0%, and bachelor’s degree attainment rates range from about 38% to over 50%.

Data used to calculate rankings are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey and County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a joint program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. All ACS data are five-year averages.

Why It Matters

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Many of the most commonly cited economic indicators — including unemployment, GDP, and industrial output — are useful gauges of prosperity and productive capacity in a given area. But when it comes to measuring overall quality of life, any single metric inevitably falls short. To address these shortcomings, the HDI combines three key social and economic measures into a single index score, allowing for objective comparisons between communities across the United States.

10. Worcester County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 79.1 years
  • Poverty rate: 10.0%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 38.4%
  • Median household income: $88,524
  • Population: 858,898

9. Suffolk County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 80.9 years
  • Poverty rate: 17.0%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 49.2%
  • Median household income: $87,669
  • Population: 785,443

8. Essex County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 79.9 years
  • Poverty rate: 9.7%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 41.7%
  • Median household income: $94,378
  • Population: 806,103

7. Plymouth County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 79.4 years
  • Poverty rate: 6.7%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 40.5%
  • Median household income: $105,387
  • Population: 529,548

6. Barnstable County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 79.6 years
  • Poverty rate: 7.0%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 46.1%
  • Median household income: $90,447
  • Population: 229,436

5. Dukes County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 81.4 years
  • Poverty rate: 6.7%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 43.2%
  • Median household income: $93,225
  • Population: 20,543

4. Hampshire County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 80.2 years
  • Poverty rate: 10.6%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 50.4%
  • Median household income: $84,025
  • Population: 153,931

3. Norfolk County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 81.5 years
  • Poverty rate: 6.5%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 56.3%
  • Median household income: $120,621
  • Population: 722,112

2. Middlesex County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 81.9 years
  • Poverty rate: 7.4%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 58.5%
  • Median household income: $121,304
  • Population: 1,623,109

1. Nantucket County

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  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 83.0 years
  • Poverty rate: 4.9%
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 57.4%
  • Median household income: $135,590
  • Population: 14,065
Rank County Avg. life expectancy at birth (yrs.) Adults with a bachelor’s degree (%) Poverty rate (%) Population
1 Nantucket, Massachusetts 83.0 57.4 4.9 14,065
2 Middlesex, Massachusetts 81.9 58.5 7.4 1,623,109
3 Norfolk, Massachusetts 81.5 56.3 6.5 722,112
4 Hampshire, Massachusetts 80.2 50.4 10.6 153,931
5 Dukes, Massachusetts 81.4 43.2 6.7 20,543
6 Barnstable, Massachusetts 79.6 46.1 7.0 229,436
7 Plymouth, Massachusetts 79.4 40.5 6.7 529,548
8 Essex, Massachusetts 79.9 41.7 9.7 806,103
9 Suffolk, Massachusetts 80.9 49.2 17.0 785,443
10 Worcester, Massachusetts 79.1 38.4 10.0 858,898

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