- Minneapolis is the best place to live for Gen Zers due to the excellent professional and personal opportunities on offer to its young adults.
- Atlanta and Boston rounded out the top three best cities for Gen Z with consistency across the board.
- The East Coast was home to six of the 20 entries on the list, with the sole West Coast entry being Seattle at #13
- Texas claimed four of the top 20 Gen Z cities, the most of any state.
For a generation as diverse as Gen Z, each city provides a unique set of opportunities as they’re beginning their careers and young adult lives. Some locations can present Gen Zers with the affordability they seek, others might offer great opportunities for education and employment, while others yet boast countless recreational activities that can keep an experience-hungry generation entertained.
So, to identify which places could best fit the different priorities that Gen Zers might have, we analyzed the largest U.S. cities across multiple metrics. Specifically, we looked at the share that Gen Zers hold out of each city’s total population to identify where relocating young professionals are more likely to find like-minded individuals. We also highlighted each city’s educational attainment among Gen Zers, affordability, green commuting and park density to paint a complete picture of which cities could best fit a generation focused on community, frugality and sustainability. Check out the methodology section for more details on our ranking system.
As this year’s ultimate Gen Z hotspot, Minneapolis finished first overall through outstanding consistency, rather than a top score in any metric. Namely, the city’s share of the age cohort among its population was one the largest in the study at 10%, as was the portion of its Gen Z residents enrolled in some form of education (52%). Furthermore, the city offered Gen Zers not enrolled in any school program with good job prospects as the city recorded one of the lowest unemployment rates among all cities in our study at 2.6%.
Runner-up Atlanta might not be known as a “college town” just yet. However, with more than half of its Gen Zers enrolled in education, such a title is not out of the question. Here, nine recognized colleges — including top-rated Emory University and Georgia Tech — are all located within a three-mile radius of each other. Additionally, Atlanta has the largest number of parks per capita as well as the fourth-largest share of Gen Zers in the study.
As the third-best city in our study for Gen Zers, Boston had the highest percentage of Gen Zers enrolled in post-secondary school – a 61% share that stands high above the 39% average among all cities in the ranking. The city also had one of the largest shares of jobs for graduates as well as a top result in our green category. This means that Gen Zers have great opportunities to become young professionals while also enjoying Boston’s famed walkability and public transportation options. That said, Boston is expensive, and this dampened its chances for an even higher finish.
Following closely behind in terms of overall points, Columbus, Ohio, stood out with a cost of living 10% cheaper than the national average. Additionally, the state capital also claimed a healthy share of Gen Zers as residents, 45% of whom were also enrolled in some form of education. On balance, for a generation that is looking to relax the pressure on their finances while still enjoying a social lifestyle, the city of Columbus offers an attractive mix of low living costs coupled with excellent educational and personal opportunity.
Raleigh, N.C., matched its large share of Gen Z students with an equally strong share of jobs suitable for recent post-secondary graduates. And, while Raleigh might not have the same entertainment options or number of parks as the nation’s largest cities, it can offer Gen Zers a cost of living just below the national average.
Of course, as a generation that celebrates individuality, the importance of the metrics in our study will vary for each person. With this in mind, we also explored which cities ranked highest in different areas. For a clearer overview, we formed both a composite economic rating, as well as a green one, by grouping the scores from relevant metrics together.
Top Cities by Share of Gen Z Residents: Tucson, Ariz., Records Highest Score
While other indicators can do a great job in highlighting individual strong suits, one of the most direct ways of identifying great cities for Gen Zers is measuring the share of Gen Zers among its residents. Furthermore, a sizable percentage of Gen Zers living in a particular city provides members of this generation with a greater chance for creating a sense of community with their peers.
- Tucson, Ariz.
Tucson led all cities with the highest share of Gen Zers as residents. Granted, this could be attributed to the local University of Arizona and its 50,000 students, which provides a massive boost to the city’s Gen Z population. Still, with 38% of the local age cohort enrolled in education, the city clearly attracts a wider range of Gen Zers besides just college students.
It’s no wonder that Gen Zers are prepared to take on the higher-than-average living costs in Boston in order to enjoy what the city offers in terms of education opportunities. Not only that, but Boston also offers Gen Zers the second-highest share of jobs for graduates, further reinforcing the city’s ability to provide the foundation for a promising career.
Minneapolis’ highest score was for community, highlighting the city as the ultimate all-round choice with excellent showings in the other metrics. And, with one in 10 residents belonging to the Gen Z cohort, the opportunities offered to young adults in Minneapolis has not gone unnoticed in this ranking’s best-scoring city.
Boston Stands Out with Significantly Higher Share of Gen Z Students Than All Other Cities
For the majority of Gen Zers, location was likely one of many factors when deciding where to go to college. Even so, either as a student or as a young professional, Gen Zers benefit from living in a city that has a strong educational environment: Not only does it produce a large share of skilled and qualified young adults, but it also attracts research and creates innovation that flows into the local economy, thereby benefiting future young professionals settling down in the city.
It’s likely no surprise that the city had the highest share of Gen Z students, but it was the difference between Boston and the rest of the cities that was most notable. More precisely, Boston recorded a share of Gen Zers enrolled in some form of education that was higher than the next city in the ranking by a share of 16%.
- San Jose, CA
San Jose ranked second in education with 53% of its Gen Z residents enrolled in higher education. The city has created a healthy cluster of universities and is led by the likes of San Jose State University, meaning that education-focused Gen Zers will likely rank it high on their list.
The city that stole the spotlight as the best city for Gen Zers was also the third-most educated with 52% of Gen Zers enrolled in higher education. Not only are there excellent colleges — such as the University of Minnesota — but with the local cost of living in line with the national average, the city offers Gen Z students the ability to thrive with relative affordability.
Striking the Balance Between Job Opportunities & Cost of Living – Oklahoma City is Highest-Scoring City Across All Gen Z Economic Metrics
When considering a move to a new city, the cost of living and job opportunities are likely to be two of the highest priorities on any Gen Zer’s list. So, to determine the best cities for Gen Zers on an economic basis, we created a group that included three relevant metrics — cost of living, jobs for recent graduates and unemployment rate. Scores were then added for an easier overview of a city’s economic ability to support a cohort that has only recently joined the workforce. Check out which cities best provide Gen Zers a bright career path without breaking the bank:
- Oklahoma City
Not only was Oklahoma City the best city overall in the economic category, but it was also the most favorable in terms of the cost of living. Here, the attraction of the city’s affordability extends to Gen Zers looking to purchase their first homes, as the city is a regular on rankings of Gen Z homebuyers across the nation. Additionally, the city also fared well in terms of availability of jobs for recent graduates and unemployment.
- Kansas City, MO
Further north, Kansas City clinched second place in the economic category. In fact, KC scored in the top 10 for all three of the Gen Z economic subcategories — the only city in our study to do so — with the eighth-lowest cost of living and low unemployment rate, as well as the ninth-highest share of jobs for recent graduates.
- Raleigh, N.C.
In a similar fashion, Raleigh scored well in all three economic subcategories, the best of which was for its share of jobs accessible to recent graduates. At the same time, Raleigh offers Gen Zers a strong job market for all, as indicated by its low unemployment rate of 3.3%, while the cost of living here is 4% lower than the national average.
Highest-Scoring Gen Z Cities for Green Points: East Coast Leads the Way with Efficient Commuting & Most Parks per Capita
For a generation determined to make pragmatic choices based on their ethics, the ability of a city to offer a low-carbon commute ticks an important box for Gen Zers. Additionally, a large number of parks per capita provides the work/life balance-driven generation with green space to take time for their general wellness. For this reason, we brought these two indicators together to highlight which city could be the strongest option for environmentally minded Gen Zers.
- New York
Scoring maximum points in the commute subcategory, New York was easily the best city overall in our green category. Clearly, the city’s multiple options of public transit are likely the result of the years of experience that city planners in NYC have in moving millions of residents and visitors from point A to point B. Moreover, considering the long commute times across the five boroughs, low carbon options seem even more important — not to mention the health benefits of walking and cycling. Plus, with more than 4,000 parks covering one-fifth of the city’s area, Gen Zers in NYC can easily find outdoor spaces to wind down.
- Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. finished as runner-up in the green category, offering the second the greatest number of parks per 10,000 residents and excellent choices of public transportation. To be precise, the city boasts more than 500 parks that take up almost one-quarter of the city’s total area. And, when it comes to using the bus network in the capital city, affordability arrives as a bonus: Services will soon be free.
In third place, Boston made it a clean sweep for East Coast cities on the podium, scoring high in both subcategories. In particular, the city provided the second-best options for an environmentally-friendly commute. The densely populated, yet compact city was also one of the country’s most walkable metros. In fact, Boston was ranked as the best place in the U.S. to live without a car in a recent study from our sister site CoworkingCafe.
Top Gen Z Cities for Things to Do: NYC Is Ultimate Playground City
The importance of fun and recreation should always be a priority (when possible) for young adults. And, for a generation that lost a couple of valuable years of possible fun in the city, getting out to an art exhibition in New York, a Houston musical, or a Cubs game in Chicago now seems all the more important. Without further ado, here are the top Gen Z cities in our ranking for entertainment and recreation:
- New York
For a generation apt with the convenience of the internet for their entertainment, its perhaps harder than ever for a city to compete for the free time of its young adults. If there is one city that can compete, its likely New York. Scoring four points more than the runner-up, no other city in our study could even get close to New York. The “city that never sleeps” offers an unrivaled selection of culinary and cultural experiences. From the world’s best eateries to a Broadway play and from its bars to its ballparks, New York is very much the playground city for Gen Z.
Finishing in the overall top 10, it’s notable that Houston had its highest ranking in the recreation category. A culturally rich city, the Theatre District ranked second in the country for its number of theatre seats in a concentrated downtown area. Likewise, it’s also home to nine professional performing arts organizations. Moreover, with its low cost of living, Gen Zers here might have extra funds to take in a home game for one of the city’s sports teams.
The Windy City remains one of America’s great cities when it comes to entertainment and food, and there is no better place for Gen Zers to start than at one of the city’s famous deep-dish pizza restaurants. Additionally, the city is renowned for its theatre company productions, as well as being the birthplace of many styles of music, all of which can be experienced in one of the city’s live venues.
Best Gen Z Cities for Internet Cost: Connection Price Perk for Oakland & Washington, D.C.
Living with access to the internet is second nature for the generation defined as digital natives. However, many are now bill-paying citizens experiencing the reality of connection costs. Furthermore, with many Gen Zers working in a hybrid capacity, the right internet access and speed at home is essential. Therefore, Gen Zers need to know how much they can expect to pay for this crucial utility.
- Oakland, Calif.
The cost of internet connection in Oakland will cost you only $50 per month, a fair price considering the study’s average of $72 across all cities. And with the city located in the innovative but expensive Bay Area, any opportunity to save on essential services are set to be welcomed by savvy Gen Zers.
2. Washington, D.C.
Gen Z professionals in the nation’s capital have the best of both worlds when it comes to working in the office or from home. Not only does the city offer an array of public transport options for a commute to the office or to one of the many Washington D.C. coworking spaces, but if you’re working from home, the critical aspect of having a reliable connection to the internet will cost only $54 per month on average.
- Louisville, Ky.
Monthly internet costs in Louisville were slightly higher at $61 on average, in line with the city’s already affordable cost of living. Other than these metrics, Louisville stood close to the average for most other indicators, making cost of living and internet affordability its stand-out strengths for Gen Zers
Metrics were selected based on their potential to provide Gen Zers with career opportunities and quality of life. Metrics were then assigned a weight-based on their importance in determining the overall attractiveness of a city for Gen Zers. The base categories, underlying metrics and their weights in the final score were as follows:
Gen Z Economic Indicators:
- Cost of Living – the composite index showing as cost of living (25% of the total index) – Source: C2ER Cost of Living Report 2022
- Jobs for Recent Graduates – Share of employed population currently working in a job requiring a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or vocational training, as well as a considerable amount of work-related skill and knowledge, but no more than four years’ experience (15% of the total index) – Source BLS 2022
- Unemployment rate within the local population (5% of the total index) – Source: BLS
Share of Gen Z Residents: The percentage of the population aged 20 to 24 in each city (15% of the total index) – Source: USCB 2021
Gen Z School Enrollment: The percentage of the population aged 20 to 24 enrolled in a form of education (10% of the total index) – Source: USCB 2021
Internet Cost: The price of internet with connection speeds of at least 60 Mbps by city (10% of the total index) – Source: Numbeo
Things to Do: The number of establishments for recreation, arts, and sports, including performing arts; spectator sports; museums; historical sites; amusement parks and arcades; other amusement and recreation; drinking places (bars); restaurants; and other places to eat (10% of the total index) – Source: CBP 2020 of the USCB
- Green Commuting – The combined percentage of public transportation, walking and cycling as a means to travel to work for each city (5% of the total index) – Source: USCB 2021
- Number of parks per 10,000 residents (5% of the total index) – Source: TPL