Key Takeaways:

  • The Midwest continues to dominate the top of the list for work/life balance and mental health with seven cities in the first 10, including the Twin Cities and Lincoln, NE taking the podium.
  • Despite fluctuations in the Southeast, Raleigh, NC and Chesapeake, VA held their top 10 positions.
  • Irvine, CA and Fremont, CA stood out as the best places for good mental health and work/life balance within the Golden State.
  • Pittsburgh, PA was the only Northeastern city with a strong overall foundation for work/life balance.
  • Large coastal and Southern hubs fell behind in most aspects that contribute to overall work/life balance.

Mental well-being is recognized as a basic human right, and work/life balance is one of its fundamental pillars. Still, there’s a tug of war in the job market with businesses slamming the brakes on well-paid remote and hybrid jobs and employees prioritizing work/life balance above all by pointing at burnout as the main reason behind most resignations. The perfect balance might look different to each of us, but our surroundings set objectively measurable limits to what we can achieve — some places are simply better-suited to foster a healthy work/life balance than others.

Recognizing this diversity, we set out to find the U.S. cities with the strongest foundations for professional fulfillment and personal well-being to coexist. First, we evaluated 100 cities with populations of 200,000 or more — with available data for all metrics analyzed — by gauging how much people work, the accessibility of free-time venues and healthcare, and the abundance of green spaces and air quality. Additionally, we considered incomes and their buying power to identify cities with a lower prevalence of financial burden as an anxiety-trigger. Finally, we factored in the adoption rate of remote work to quantify this much-debated aspect of work culture, as well as commute times to get a feel of the effort it takes to earn a living on top of the nine-to-five.

Mid-sized Midwestern Cities Remain Clear Leaders for Work/Life Balance

Coastal and Southern commercial hubs usually steal most of the spotlight when it comes to job opportunities. However, the Midwest emerged yet again as the clear leader when it came to work/life balance and mental health with seven cities landing in the top 10.

The Twin Cities took the first two places with Minneapolis, MN maintaining its pole position from last year by ranking consistently strong across the board. Not only did Minneapolis stay in the lead, but it continued its climb in this year’s showdown, improving its scores in many key metrics. In the case of St. Paul, MN, we have a more prominent success story: the city climbed from sixth to second place with a four-point overall gain — thanks, in large part, to shorter commutes and low inflation compared to other cities.

Minneapolis’ improvement was spearheaded by the growing purchasing power of local salaries and a significant drop in air pollution, as well as an increase in the density of free-time amenities from nine to 15 such places per 10,000 residents. To that end, the median income now exceeds $76,300 (up from a hair over $70,000 last year) and the cost of living stands about 2% below the national average, making Minneapolis one of the most affordable places on our list, especially among similarly sized cities. The city also had one of the highest health insurance coverage rates at 94%.

Minneapolis also continued to excel when it came to fostering mental health with the average work week coming in well under 38 hours. This is about an hour less than the average large city and about three hours less than some of the low-performers on the list. The commute time was also on the shorter end at just less than 23 minutes. What’s more, with 19% of workers in remote jobs — up from 16% last year — Minneapolis was ahead of most big cities in terms of flexible work.

Although neighboring St. Paul missed the podium last year, it did have the second-highest health score in 2023, signaling that the city was a worthy contender for a more prominent placement. Even so, the comeback couldn’t have been more spectacular. That’s because a significant adjustment in price levels also boosted affordability — even with salaries remaining middle-of-the-road despite the almost 10% income growth. Commute times also shrunk by more than half a minute, on average, to 23.1 minutes, which translated into a six-place jump in that category.

Otherwise, while telecommuting continued to gain popularity (with the share of remote workers increasing by two percentage points to a current 15%), other cities posted better results, which cost St. Paul five places in the category. Ironically, the city also slid back to third place in the mental health category, giving its place to Lincoln, NE. And, while the 37.2-hour work week in St. Paul remained among the best, the city lost important points in the air quality subcategory. However, even here, St. Paul had a surprise up its sleeve and climbed to first place in the recreational amenities subcategory by almost doubling the density of these establishments in one year’s time.

Lincoln, NE, also defended its podium placement from last year with outstanding mental health, affordability and commute scores. Specifically, the Nebraska capital snatched second place in the mental health category due to its 37.2-hour work week (the same as St. Paul), but coupled it with a much better air quality. Then, in the financial metrics, the situation remained similar to last year with only a slight improvement relative to other cities. (Relative because while increasing price levels meant the cost of living inched up, higher inflation rates in other parts of the country still pushed Lincoln up one place to the eighth spot in the affordability ranking.)

Of course, the enviable, less-than-19-minute average commute time also contributed to Lincoln’s prominent placement as a few seconds of improvement translated into a two-place jump to second place. However, as for the city’s work culture, the share of remote workers remained in the single-digit zone. Even so, the trend is encouraging after registering a significant improvement from 7% to 9% in one year.

Further down the list were four more Midwestern cities in the top 10: in fourth place, Madison, WI missed the podium this year by only 0.3 points by once again maxing out the mental health score with the shortest average work week on the list at 36.5 hours; recording an exceptional 96% rate of health insurance coverage; and logging 16 recreational amenities per 10,000 residents — all top-10 placements in their respective subcategories. But, the relatively slow income growth meant that the Wisconsin capital slid back 10 places in the affordability ranking, costing the city its silver medal from last year.

At the same time, Columbus, OH moved one step up the ladder to sixth place. Despite small setbacks in the affordability and air quality metrics, the city remained consistent throughout the year, owing this step up as much to Des Moines’ slide back to 10th place as to its own stability across most work/life balance indicators. That said, it’s worth noting that Columbus is, by far, the largest city in the top 20 with more than 900,000 residents, which explains the lower volatility of the numbers across the board.

Omaha, NE and Des Moines, IA consolidated the Midwestern dominance to round out the top 10. Although Omaha earned its top-10 placement with a highly favorable income-to-costs ratio — on top of its short, 19.3-minute average commute time — it did slide back one place overall, largely because of a slow year-over-year income growth compared to other cities. Not to be outdone, Des Moines stood out with the lowest cost of living out of the top 10 with prices almost 14% below the national average, as well as a swift, 19.5-minute commute time and 34 acres of green spaces for every 1,000 residents to follow a strikingly similar overall score distribution pattern to Lincoln.

Research Triangle & Hampton Roads Emerge as Southwest’s Key Work/Life Balance Hubs

The Southeastern U.S. was also well-represented in the ranking due to two important clusters of mental health oases.

First up is the Research Triangle, where Raleigh, NC took fifth place due to the exceptionally good buying power of local wages. While the $78,600 median household income or the cost of living just 3.3% below the national average might not sound exceptional in isolation, this combination made for the best-balanced ratio on the list. The stats also showed that 20% of local employees worked remotely — registering a three percentage-point increase since last year. And, in terms of its mental health metrics, Raleigh performed best in the air quality, green spaces and recreational amenities subcategories.

Similarly, a double-digit income growth and improved environmental scores also earned Durham, NC a place on this year’s shortlist of the best cities for work/life balance to rise from the 23rd to 18th spot. Here, the median income registered a more than 12% increase to almost $75,000, while the cost of living remained just slightly above the U.S. average, resulting in a five-place jump in the affordability ranking. The work week also shrank from 38.9 to 38.6 hours, and commute times improved from 22.5 to 22.3 minutes. As for the environmental factors in the mental health category, recreational amenities and green spaces were also slightly more abundant this year. However, Durham was held back by a relatively low health insurance coverage at 88%, which was the same as last year.

Further out on the coastline, the Hampton Roads area represented the second high-scoring Southeastern cluster. Namely, Chesapeake, VA remained in the top 10 and even climbed two spots to #8 with the second-highest affordability score due to the $92,700 median annual household income. But, Chesapeake’s real strength was in its mental health indicators, taking 14th place in the category due to its 93% health insurance coverage and 20 recreational amenities per 10,000 residents. What’s more, Chesapeake also boasted a whopping 234 acres of green spaces per 1,000 residents, second only to Anchorage, AK (clearly an unfair comparison by any means).

Neighboring Virginia Beach, VA, came in 15th overall, up from last year’s 16th place. Just as in Chesapeake’s case, the $87,500 median income had its say in the affordability ranking. Here again, Virginia Beach benefits from the same proximity to nature as Chesapeake. The lush vegetation of the surrounding forests and the Great Dismal Swamp help keep atmospheric pollution in check in the area, placing both cities in the top five in terms of air quality.

Last, but not least, Lexington, KY defended its 11th place exactly halfway between the high- and low-performers of the previous two Southeastern hotspots. Lexington’s strongest suits remain its great air quality and commute time of less than 21 minutes. The city also offers one of the lowest costs of living with prices hovering almost 7% below the national average, as well as a short average work week at just under 38 hours.

West & Southwest Gain More Ground Among Best Cities for Work/Life Balance

Although the Midwestern and Southeastern cities stole most of the spotlight, the West Coast was also well-represented.

For instance, Irvine, CA taking seventh place was a particularly high achievement not only because it climbed two spots since last year, but also because it was the only greater Los Angeles area city to rank near the top of the list. Irvine stood out as a true haven for mental well-being in last year’s study, too, and the city wasn’t resting on its laurels. It moved from eighth to sixth place in the mental health category thanks to the average work week dropping from an already low 38.4 hours to 38.1, in addition to air pollution also dropping significantly. Plus, the share of remote employees also saw a huge growth to now account for 23% of the local workforce — up from last year’s 18%.

Further north, Portland, OR stood out in the overall ranking at 14th place and hot on Irvine’s heels when it came to flexible working. In particular, the 22% adoption of remote work was near the top of the list. The city also ranked similarly well in the mental health category due to its exceptional air quality and 94% health insurance coverage.

Fremont, CA also joined the top 20 this year after climbing five places in the overall ranking to #19. With the best health insurance coverage rate at 97% and the highest median annual income at $169,000, Fremont provides a solid financial base. Furthermore, one in four workers in the city telecommutes or works in a hybrid arrangement.

However, the city’s evolution is even more impressive than the raw numbers. For instance, Fremont was one of only two cities in the top 10 that gained at least one spot in all categories compared to last year (apart from income because it was already in the pole position). However, the most spectacular jump was seen in affordability: – while the cost of living is still a staggering 49% above the national average, the drop is a considerable one from the nearly 67% price premium reported last year.

Meanwhile, only two non-coastal Western markets made the list: Boise, ID was the rising star of this year’s showdown, climbing 10 places in the overall ranking to #12. In the mental health category, the city gained an even more impressive 16 places thanks to a huge air quality improvement, while also effectively doubling the density of free-time amenities. Apart from these improvements, Boise boasts the shortest commute time among our top 20 cities at just a hair more than 19 minutes, on average.

Henderson, NV, on the other hand, slid back two places since last year. Rather than its own dwindling performance, Henderson’s lower ranking in the mental health category was caused by other cities overtaking it as its numbers remained largely unchanged throughout the last year. The cost of living has even improved a full percentage point and is now within striking distance of the national average level.

Further down the map, the Southwestern region was also represented by two cities among the best places for work/life balance.

With consistently high scores across the board, Albuquerque, NM climbed four steps on the ladder to 13th place. Here, environmental factors like air quality and green spaces had some slight decreases, whereas work culture shifted in favor of a better work/life balance, as did the availability of free-time activities.

Scottsdale, AZ also remained in the top 20, despite losing eight positions and falling all the way to the tail end of the list. A city of extremes, Scottsdale had the highest rate of remote work in the top 20 (26%), as well as one of the highest median income levels at almost $104,200. On the other hand, it finished further back by cost of living and mental health indicators — despite the 95% health insurance coverage rate and the 128 green acres per 1,000 residents. Likewise, its poor (although improving) air quality and almost 41-hour average work week were too much for Scottsdale to remain near the top 10.

Large, Northeastern Cities Least Favorable for Work/Life Balance

Pittsburgh, PA was the sole representative of the Northeastern United States, but while it finished at the tail end of the list in 2023, it climbed three places to #17 this year. Here, mental health metrics remained the city’s strong suit, finishing once again in seventh place thanks to the strong, 95% health insurance coverage among the city’s residents and abundant recreational amenities. The city was also supported to a lesser degree by its reasonable work hours with the average work week coming in at 37.6 hours. Like many other cities on the list, Pittsburgh also benefitted from a slight adjustment of the cost of living index. Moreover, commute times improved by half a minute, on average, currently standing at 23.4 minutes.

In this annual CoworkingCafe series, we ranked U.S. cities by their capacity to foster a healthy work/life balance for their populations. In addition to a current snapshot on economic, cultural, and infrastructural factors and their potential influence on workers’ mental health, this second edition highlighted the most significant changes that took place since last year's study.

Expert insights

J. Gerald Suarez, Ph.D.

Professor of the Practice in Systems Thinking and Design
UMD – Robert H. Smith School of Business

How can city planners and policymakers collaborate with businesses to create environments that prioritize employee well-being while maintaining economic growth?

Technology has blurred the lines between the home and the office, and the proliferation of hybrid formats creates flexible schedules and geographical mobility. As a result, urban planners are catering to this trend by designing neighborhoods for walkability, such as Culdesac Tempe in Arizona. Building green spaces and public areas of engagement where people can interact with community members and experience a greater sense of belonging are taking precedence over traditional infrastructure like a parking garage.

Are there any initiatives that cities or employers are implementing to improve work/life balance that you find particularly promising?

Since the pandemic, we’ve seen an attitudinal shift and an increased focus on work/life balance. This momentum stems from the workforce seeking fulfilling, holistic experiences and demanding more autonomy to customize their jobs in ways that help them support their families, enhance their wellness, and nurture their mental health. Employers have responded by creating organizational initiatives such as financial support to improve employees' mental wellbeing. Companies are also calling attention to the importance of taking micro vacations and promoting frequent breaks during the workday.

How do you see the dynamics of work/life balance in large cities evolving in the coming years?

The evolution of the dynamics of work/life balance in large cities will be influenced by telecommunication advances, environmentally focused policies, and cultural norms that are trending towards living a whole and fulfilling life.


Laura Payne, Ph.D.

Director, Office of Recreation and Park Resources
Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism
UIUC – College of Applied Health Sciences

Are there any initiatives that cities or employers are implementing to improve work/life balance that you find particularly promising?

City governments, health departments, parks and recreation agencies, healthcare organizations, and other non-profits are already working together to improve Americans’ health and well-being and develop and implement initiatives that facilitate peoples’ engagement in healthy lifestyles. […]

Our research showed that having a workplace wellness program that includes a biometric screen prompted a lot of participants to see their primary care physician. They also felt better about their employers for offering such programs. I believe paid time off for health and wellness activities would be a game changer, as it would facilitate long-term engagement — our study showed that participation rates have dropped significantly over two years.


How do you see the dynamics of work/life balance in large cities evolving in the coming years?

I think when we had to adhere to a stay-at-home order [during the COVID-19 pandemic], it offered the time and space for people to evaluate how they are spending their time. We are a society that thrives on productivity and time deepening — doing more activities simultaneously to enhance our use of time. […] There is also a perception of “time famine” — which is the feeling of never having enough time.

Time deepening and time famine are not new phenomena, nor are they new issues in American society. However, remote and hybrid work have paved the way for improving work/life balance (e.g., doing laundry while working reduces the need to do it all weekend) and helps people be more mindful and intentional about how they are using their time. Although some employers are not as supportive of remote work (and the blending of chores, caregiving activities and work), overall it’s a positive step for Americans to “Take Back Their Time”, which was a major movement and initiative led by author, filmmaker and activist John de Graaf.<

What advice would you offer to individuals seeking to prioritize work/life balance when considering relocation to a new city for career opportunities?

  • Almost every mid-size and larger community has a park and recreation department or park district that offers a variety of programs, events, facilities and services for people of all ages. These are supported by public revenue , so program and event fees are kept lower than private non-profit and commercial organizations such as fitness centers and gyms.
  • YMCA and YWCAs also offer a lot of recreation, sport, fitness and wellness facilities, programs, events, and services, and they offer a sliding scale for lower income populations so that cost is not a barrier to taking advantage of what they have to offer.
  • For older adults , there are many low cost and free health and well-being programs offered through the aging services networks because there is funding through the Administration on Community Living (ACL) for evidence-based health and well-being programs — this also keeps costs low.
  • There is a growing body of evidence to support the stress reducing and attention restoration effects of visiting a park or natural area. This evidence includes psychological, social and physical benefits of “forest bathing” (doesn’t even have to be a forest) and there are programs that exist such as ParkRx and “Walk with a Doc” to facilitate peoples’ use of parks and natural areas for physical activity.


  • CoworkingCafe focused on U.S. cities with at least 200,000 residents that had data for all metrics analyzed.
  • The total score was calculated using the following data points and weighting:
    1. Mental health – 40% of the total index
      • Average work hours per week – includes part-time and full-time positions [U.S. Census Bureau – 5-year estimates (2022)] – 40%
      • Green spaces in acres per 1,000 residents [The Trust for Public Land’s public database (2022)] – 20%
      • Number of recreational amenities per 10,000 residents [The Trust for Public Land’s public database (2022)] – 20%
      • Percentage of population with public or private health insurance coverage [U.S. Census Bureau – 5-year estimates (2022)] – 10%
      • Air Quality Index* [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2022)] – 10%
    2. Affordability – 30% of the total index
      • Median annual household income [U.S. Census Bureau – 5-year estimates (2022)]
      • Cost of Living Index [The Council for Community and Economic Research (2022)]
    3. Remote work – 20% of the total index
      • Share of remote workers out of the total working population [U.S. Census Bureau – 5-year estimates (2022)]
    4. Commute time – 10% of the total index
      • Mean travel time to work in minutes [U.S. Census Bureau – 5-year estimates (2022)]
  • The scores used to compare cities were inversely proportional to their ranks obtained for each data point and were assigned in increments of one point/rank (1stplace = 100 points; 2nd place = 99 points; etc.).

* The air quality index reflected that of the wider metro area when city-level data was not available.

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Balazs Szekely, our Senior Creative Writer has a degree in journalism and dynamic career experience spanning radio, print and online media, as well as B2B and B2C copywriting. With extensive experience at several real estate industry publications, he’s well-versed in coworking trends, remote work, lifestyle and health topics. Balazs’ work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as on CBS, CNBC and more. He’s fascinated by photography, winter sports and nature, and, in his free time, you may find him away from home on a city break. You can drop Balazs a line via email.

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