Special Report

The Best Counties to Live In

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5. Summit County, Colorado
> Poverty rate: 8.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 52.4%
> Life expectancy at birth: 96.8 years
> Total population: 30,649
> Largest place in county: Silverthorne

Summit County is one of nine Colorado counties to rank among the 50 best places in America to live. The county, which is west of Denver, is home to several notable skiing destinations, including the town of Breckenridge. It is one of just a few dozen counties in America in which all residents have easy access to a place to exercise. More than 89% of all residents report getting at least some leisure time physical activity, one of the five largest shares in the country.

Likely at least in part because of the high access to exercise options and the high rate of residents reporting physical activity, very few Summit County residents are obese. The county’s adult obesity rate is less than 16%, compared to 29% nationwide. Life expectancy in the county is 96.8 years, more than 17 years longer than the national average.

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4. Arlington County, Virginia
> Poverty rate: 6.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 75.3%
> Life expectancy at birth: 85.2 years
> Total population: 233,464
> Largest place in county: Arlington

Arlington County, Virginia, is located directly across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. and shares a border with several other counties that also rank among the 50 best places to live. Arlington is one of only two county or county equivalents in the country where more than three in every four adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Higher educational attainment is linked with better health outcomes and healthier lifestyles. In Arlington County, only 12.3% of adults smoke, compared to 17.1% of U.S. adults, and only 19.6% of adults are obese, compared to 29% of adults nationwide. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and obesity is a risk factor for many potentially fatal diseases and conditions. The reduced likelihood of these risk factors likely partially explains the county’s relatively high life expectancy at birth in the county, which at 85.2 years is more than six years above the national average.

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3. Pitkin County, Colorado
> Poverty rate: 6.7%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 60.8%
> Life expectancy at birth: 93.4 years
> Total population: 17,926
> Largest place in county: Aspen

Many counties in Colorado that rank among the top 50 best places to live are located either around a major urban area or in the Rocky Mountains and are popular outdoor recreation areas. Pitkin County, Colorado, home to Aspen and Snowmass Village, is one of them. By several measures, Colorado has one of the healthiest populations of any state, and in Pitkin County, life expectancy at birth is an estimated 93.4 years, over 14 years above the national average.

Better-educated populations tend to report better health outcomes, and Pitkin County is no exception. An estimated 60.8% of adults living in the county have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 32.1% of Americans nationwide.

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2. Falls Church city, Virginia
> Poverty rate: 3.2%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 77.6%
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.6 years
> Total population: 14,128
> Largest place in county: Falls Church

Falls Church city is an independent city in northern Virginia within commuting distance to Washington, D.C. It ranks as the second best place to live in America largely because of its residents’ affluence. With a median household income of $127,610, Falls Church is one of just two county or county equivalents in America in which the median household income is more than double U.S. median of $62,843. Just 3.2% of residents live below the poverty line, a fraction of the national poverty rate of 13.4%.

Incomes and educational attainment levels are closely linked, and Falls Church residents are more likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree than those in any other place in the nation. An estimated 77.6% of residents 25 and older hold at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest share in the U.S. and more than double the comparable U.S. rate of 32.1%.

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1. San Miguel County, Colorado
> Poverty rate: 11.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 59.4%
> Life expectancy at birth: 100+ years
> Total population: 8,049
> Largest place in county: Telluride

Many counties in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain region that are popular destinations for outdoor recreation rank among the best places to live. San Miguel County, home to the Telluride ski resort, is one of them. These places tend to have healthy populations, and in San Miguel County, average life expectancy at birth is estimated to be over 100 years. It is important to note, however, that average life expectancies are calculated estimates, and that some margin of error should be expected.

Higher educational attainment is linked with better health outcomes and healthier lifestyles, and 59.4% of adults in San Miguel County have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 32.1% of adults nationwide. Only 15.2% of adults in the county lead completely sedentary lifestyles, compared to 23.3% of U.S. adults. Also, only 18.8% of adults are obese, compared to 29.0% of adults nationwide.

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