Man and woman moving into a new house.

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

Rachel Burris6-Minute Read
December 02, 2020

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 swarms of 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 vs. city question.

What Is The Difference Between A City And Suburb?

The difference between a city and 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 small 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 Urban Vs. Suburban Living

With the newfound need for masks and social distancing, COVID-19 has caused more people to become interested in the domesticity of the ‘burbs. However, diehard city fans have been taking advantage of the drop in housing costs that have occurred as a result of the pandemic.

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:

Suburbs Vs City comparison table.

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, 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 city folk don’t have to worry about, such as car insurance, homeowners insurance, home maintenance and lawn care. Still, they enjoy a 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 do apartments in the city. This additional room has become an even greater blessing during the pandemic, as it’s allowed families to learn and work remotely without stepping on each other’s toes.

Having a front or backyard has also been a major plus for suburban living during these unprecedented times. Residents can go on walks and runs without worrying about journeying down crowded city streets, and children have space to play or engage in other recreational activities.

The 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 ’Burbs

Before you decide to move to the ’burbs, 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 individuals ages 25 – 64 may be having a greater impact on suburban living than just its demographics. The suburbs seem to have experienced a decline in 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

Although COVID-19 has put a damper on city living, there are still many benefits – and will be many more again soon. While numerous Americans are currently able to work remotely, that may not continue to be the case once we have a handle on the virus. Once Americans return to the office, cities will once again offer far more career opportunities than the suburbs. The industries, companies and positions available in 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. That energy that cities possess 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 the Big Apple may not be in the cards for you. However, there are some big cities that are actually affordable.

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 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.

Bottom Line

To determine whether you should live in the suburbs or the city, you must 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 may 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 homogeny and diminished career opportunities ultimately lower your quality of life.

Still, 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 begin the next chapter of your life.

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    Rachel Burris

    Rachel Burris is a writer covering topics of interest to present and future homeowners, as well as industry insiders. Prior to joining Quicken Loans, 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.