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Living In The Suburb Vs. City: Which Is Right For You?

Rachel Burris6-Minute Read
August 31, 2022

If you’re scratching your head, trying to decide whether an urban or suburban lifestyle is right for you, you’re not alone. Decades ago, the advent of the suburbs saw many Americans moving out of cities across the country.

In recent years, cities have made a comeback. In 2018, 25% of the population lived in the suburbs, and 31% lived in the city, according to the Pew Research Center. However, since COVID-19 swept the nation, Americans are again faced with the suburb versus city question.

In this article, we’ll help you weigh the pros and cons of living in suburban areas compared to  large cities while discussing the main considerations you should make before deciding where to live.

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What Is The Difference Between A City And A Suburb?

The difference between a city and a suburb is harder to classify than you may think. For some, the distinction is geographical. A city is considered to be at the core of a metropolitan area, while a suburb is on the periphery of a city’s limits.

Although there is some overlap, you also can think about the difference in terms of population density. A city may be defined as having a population of over 100,000, while a suburb may have anywhere from 10,000 to 1 million residents. Furthermore, the typical ages of that population can also be used to differentiate the two. While cities tend to be filled with young, highly educated adults, the suburbs tend to be populated by the older generations.

Yet, more often than not, people distinguish a city from a suburb based on its usage and general feel. One tends to expect a city to be the center of commerce and industry while also providing housing for a diverse group of people. Meanwhile, images of single-family homes with yards and white picket fences pop into most people’s minds when they think of suburbia because the suburbs are seen as being predominantly residential.

How To Decide Between City Vs. Suburb

While the current climate may play a role in your choice, ultimately, the decision between urban and suburban living should come down to the kind of person you are and the type of lifestyle you want to lead. To help you figure out which type of environment best suits your needs, consider some of the following factors.

Location

  • How far am I willing to travel for work?
  • How close do I want to live to amenities like restaurants, shops, cultural offerings, etc.?

Affordability

  • How much am I willing to spend on housing, food, health care, taxes, etc.?

Population Density

  • How comfortable do I feel living near large crowds of people?
  • How much space do I need?

Career Opportunities

  • How important is it that I have diverse options when it comes down to my industry and position?

Education

  • How important is it that my kids attend a school that has a low student-to-teacher ratio?
  • Am I open and able to send my children to private school?

Transportation

  • Do I prefer to drive, walk, or take public transportation?
  • How comfortable do I feel taking public transit?

Suburban Living

Depending on your answers to the questions above, you may think that suburban living is right for you. But before you jump in the car and head for suburbia to buy a home, make sure you have a balanced understanding of what such a lifestyle has to offer.

Benefits Of Living In The Suburbs

Among the biggest benefits of living in the suburbs is that they tend to be more affordable than cities. Suburbanites do have certain expenses that most urbanites don’t have to worry about, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, home maintenance and lawn care. Since suburban residents typically work in the city, they’ll also need to account for the cost of owning a car and the time spent on commuting. Still, they enjoy an overall lower cost of living because housing, food, taxes, health care and child care tend to be less expensive in the suburbs.

With the suburbs also comes the luxury of space. People who live in the suburbs typically live in single-family homes that provide residents with a much higher square footage than most condos or apartments in the city. This additional room became an even greater blessing during the pandemic, as it allowed families to learn and work remotely without stepping on each other’s toes.

The public schools in the suburbs also tend to be stronger than those in the city. While this is certainly not the case for every school district, suburban schools tend to have fewer students and thus a better student-to-teacher ratio. The lower ratio enables suburban students to receive more individualized instruction, which can greatly improve their academic performance.

Considerations Before Moving To The City Suburbs

Before you decide to move to the suburbs, you may want to consider whether you think you’re in the right stage of life. The Pew Research Center has found that there has been significant population growth in the suburbs. Yet, the growth mainly has been confined to individuals at opposite ends of the age spectrum. Between 2000 and 2018, the suburban population of individuals under 25 years old has increased by 3.3 million, and the population of individuals over 64 years old has increased by 5.2 million.

The fact that the suburbs are not experiencing the same type of growth for millennial and Gen X individuals (roughly between the ages of 25 and 64) may be having a greater impact on suburban living than just its demographics. Many middle-class suburbs seem to have experienced a decline in the workforce and average household income as a result. 

City Living

If the bright lights and big city are calling your name, you should consider a move to one of the country’s many metro areas. However, before you do, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Benefits Of City Living

As Americans return to the office, cities will once again offer far more career opportunities than the suburbs. The industries, companies and positions available in major cities tend to be not only more plentiful but also more diverse.

While it may be more expensive to purchase a home in a city, property tends to appreciate more quickly in urban areas. Real estate investment opportunities tend to be safer and more lucrative because space is limited, and zoning laws tend to restrict cities from creating more of it.

Cities’ greater availability of public transportation enables residents to save money and do their part to help the environment. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, people can save nearly $10,000 a year by using public transit. Plus, by forgoing the driving, an individual who commutes 20 miles round trip can lower their carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds each year.

Yet, what truly drives people to cities is their vibrancy. The energy that cities radiate stems from their diversity and cultural wealth. Living in an area that celebrates multiculturalism provides people with the ability to see from new perspectives and enjoy the food, art and company of diverse cultures.

Considerations Before Moving To The City

Before you pack up your belongings, keep in mind that city living is not without its challenges. If you’re thinking of moving to the city, you should begin by considering your finances. Cities tend to have a higher cost of living than the suburbs. Given that it’s the most expensive city in the U.S., living in New York City, especially Manhattan, may not be in the cards for you. However, there are some big cities that are actually affordable and worth considering.

Still, in an urban environment, your money won’t go as far, especially when it comes to housing. While the price per square foot is much higher in cities than in the suburbs, the square footage itself is far lower. Therefore, you need to be willing to give up some living space if you’re going to make it in the city.

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The Bottom Line

To determine whether you should live in the suburbs or the city, begin by asking yourself the tough questions. What is most important to you? What kind of lifestyle do you want? What can you truly afford?

While you may love visiting the city, you might discover that the day-to-day grind is not for you. Likewise, seeing other people’s houses and yards in the suburbs may seem idyllic, but you may find that the homogeneity and diminished career opportunities ultimately lower your quality of life.

After you do some research and soul searching, you may realize that you need a change of scenery. Whether you’re a would-be suburbanite or a wannabe city dweller, there’s no time like the present to find out which better fits your lifestyle. Check out our cost of living calculator to find which cities and suburbs are the most affordable compared to your current location.

Rachel Burris

Rachel Burris is a writer covering topics of interest to present and future homeowners, as well as industry insiders. Prior to joining Rocket Companies, she worked as an English teacher for the New York City Department of Education and a licensed real estate agent for Brown Harris Stevens. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Bucknell University, a postbaccalaureate certificate in psychology from Columbia University and a master's degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University.