Special Report

America's Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

Water fountain in Oyster Creek Park, Sugar Land, Fort Bend County, Texas, USA
Source: Thinkstock

11. Texas
> Poverty rate: 15.9% (14th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.5% (18th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 32.4% (10th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 28.4% (23rd lowest)

Residents of Texas report among the highest well-being of any state. A lower than average prevalence of certain unhealthy behaviors likely contributes to residents’ relatively high well-being. For example, there are 9.6 deaths for every 100,000 residents due to a drug overdose, well below the comparable national figure of 14.0 deaths per 100,000 people. Texas’ smoking rate of 15.2% is also lower than the 17.5% national smoking rate.

More than residents in other states, people in Texas say they have close, supportive relationships at home. This could be due in part to families comprising nearly 70% of households, nearly the highest such percentage. Also, married couples, who have relatively low reported rates of depression, make up a larger share of household arrangements in Texas than in most states.

Surfer walking on a beach at sunset San Diego, California
Source: Thinkstock

12. California
> Poverty rate: 15.3% (19th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.2% (7th highest)
> Obesity rate: 24.2% (4th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 32.3% (14th highest)

While high income is by no means a guarantee of a satisfying life, affluence can potentially lead to comfort and higher quality of life. California has the ninth highest median household income in the country at $64,500 a year. On the other hand, the state has a slightly higher share of residents living in poverty at 15.3%, versus the national poverty rate of 14.7%.

The state has one of the most physically healthy populations. California has among the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease and heart disease death in the country. Also, the state reports very low rates of obesity and physical inactivity, which can contribute to poor health outcomes.

Ocean park near Oak Bluffs Beach on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod Massachusetts.
Source: Thinkstock

13. Massachusetts
> Poverty rate: 11.5% (14th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.0% (24th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 24.3% (5th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 41.5% (the highest)

Massachusetts has the highest college attainment rate in the country with 41.5% of adults having earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to the 30.6% national share. Higher educational attainment can give people a sense of purpose and control in life and better earning opportunities. Massachusetts has the sixth highest median household income in the country, as well as one of the lower poverty rates of any state.

The incidence of death from heart disease in Massachusetts, at 137 per 100,000 people, is sixth lowest compared with other states, an indication that state residents are in good physical health. Also, relatively few people report unhealthy habits. For example, 14% of adults smoke, nearly the lowest smoking rate in the nation.

Golden Fiery Sunset at Grand Teton, Wyoming
Source: Thinkstock

14. Wyoming
> Poverty rate: 11.1% (10th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.2% (15th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 29.0% (21st lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 26.2% (12th lowest)

The median household income in Wyoming of $60,214 a year is higher than the national median of $55,775. While a higher income do not necessarily translate to greater overall well-being, the absence of serious financial hardship does. Only 11.1% of Wyoming residents live in poverty, a considerably smaller share than the 14.7% national poverty rate.

Although financial hardship is relatively scarce in Wyoming, some negative health outcomes and bad habits are slightly more common. Across the state, some 29.0% of adults are obese, 26.2% lead sedentary lives, and 17.5% drink excessively, each roughly in line with the corresponding nationwide shares.

Wheatfield, Gage County, Nebraska
Source: Thinkstock

15. Nebraska
> Poverty rate: 12.6% (19th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.0% (2nd lowest)
> Obesity rate: 31.4% (14th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 30.2% (21st highest)

Nebraska’s residents are more likely than those in the vast majority of states to report having a strong sense of purpose in life. This is likely partially attributable to the fact that a high share of people who want to work are able to do so. The state’s unemployment rate is just 3.0%, compared to the national annual rate of 5.3%.

State residents are also more likely than most to be in both good mental and physical health. Adults in Nebraska report an average of 2.9 days of poor mental health and 3.1 days of poor physical health each month, each among the five lowest shares among states and well below the national averages of 3.7 and 3.9 days, respectively. Nebraska reports a below average incidence of cardiovascular disease as well as a lower death rate from the disease. It also has the third lowest rate of drug deaths per capita among states, a growing concern in the United States.

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