Special Report

25 Best Counties to Live In

Source: Martin Prochnik / Flickr

10. Fairfax, Virginia
> 5-yr. population change: +6.0%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 3.0%
> Poverty rate: 6.2%
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.7 years

Fairfax is one of many affluent and well-educated counties in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. While Fairfax is the seat of Fairfax County, it is an independent city and is separate from the county under Virginia law. Like other suburbs of the nation’s capital, a large share of Fairfax workers are employed in professional, scientific and technical, and government services. Some 54.7% of adults in the county have a bachelor’s degree, and the typical household earns $104,065 a year — each some of the highest figures of any U.S. county.

High income areas with high educational attainment rates tend to have high life expectancies, and Fairfax is no exception. Life expectancy at birth in Fairfax is 83.7 years — about four and a half years longer than life expectancy in the U.S. as a whole.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Marin County, California
> 5-yr. population change: +3.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 2.2%
> Poverty rate: 8.1%
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.8 years

Situated directly across from San Francisco at the the other end of the Golden Gate Bridge, with the Pacific Coast along its western border, Marin County is one of the wealthiest in the United States. The typical county household earns $100,310 a year, well above the median income nationwide of $55,322. In addition, financial hardship is relatively scarce in the region. Only 8.1% of the Marin population lives below the poverty line compared to 15.1% of Americans.

High income families have access to a greater range of healthy options related to lifestyle and diet. As a result, more affluent areas tend to have longer life expectancies — and Marin County is no exception. Life expectancy at birth in Marin is 83.8 years, well above the life expectancy nationwide of 79.1 years.

Source: Cecouchman / Wikimedia Commons

8. Loudoun County, Virginia
> 5-yr. population change: +19.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 3.0%
> Poverty rate: 4.0%
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.2 years

Like many suburban counties in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, a large share of Loudon County residents work in advanced, high-paying jobs in government and private defense. The U.S. Department of Homeland Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Orbital Sciences Corporation, and defense contractor Raytheon Company are among the top 20 employers of the county’s workforce.

Some 58.8% of county adults have a bachelor’s degree, and the typical Loudon County household earns $125,672 a year — the highest median household income nationwide. Since 2011, the county’s population has increased by 19.5%, five times the national average growth rate.

Source: Thinkstock

7. Howard County, Maryland
> 5-yr. population change: +8.7%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 3.1%
> Poverty rate: 4.9%
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.0 years

Like many counties on this list, Howard County residents have relatively easy access to employment opportunities and cultural amenities of a nearby urban area. Both Baltimore and Washington D.C. are within commuting distance of the county. Proximity to the cities means Howard County workers have access to jobs at dozens of federal agencies as well as universities, Fortune 500 companies, technology, defense and health care companies.

Jobs with such employers are often high paying. The typical county household earns $113,800 a year, more than double the median income nationwide of $55,322. There is also a relative lack of poverty in the county. Only 4.9% of Howard residents live below the poverty line, compared to 15.1% of the U.S. population.

Source: krblokhin / iStock

6. Fairfax County, Virginia
> 5-yr. population change: +6.4%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 3.0%
> Poverty rate: 6.0%
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.7 years

Fairfax County is one of several counties within the Washington-Alexandria-Arlington metro area that ranks among the best places to live. The county seat is the city of Fairfax, which, as an independent city, is separate from Fairfax County under Virginia law. Like other suburbs of the nation’s capital, many Fairfax County residents work in high-paying, advanced jobs in government and private defense. The top 15 largest employers of the Fairfax workforce include the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Defense, government services company Booz, Allen and Hamilton, and defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation. An estimated 60.3% of adults in the county have a bachelor’s degree, and the typical household earns $114,329 a year — each about double the corresponding national figures of 30.3% and $55,322.