Do Smart People Live in Expensive Cities?


Have you ever wondered which American city is the smartest? Like, if aliens came to your house and put a tentacle to your head and said "Tell us where the smart people are," would you have any idea?

Personally, I would go into clarification mode. I would have to ask the alien how we were defining "smartest city." It would be at this point that he/she/it would probably just hit me in the stomach. However, if the visitors had read this recent CNN Money article about the smartest cities in the country, we would totally be on the same page and have a good talk afterward.

The article illuminates recently released U.S. Census Bureau data about which metropolitan areas have the highest percentage of residents with college degrees (amongst people 25 years and older). In what is sure to be great cheap joke fodder for someone like Jay Leno, Washington D.C. ranked as the "smartest" city in America, with 47% of its age 25+ crowd having a bachelor's, master's, professional, or doctorate degree. For comparison: the average figure amongst major U.S. cities is 25%.

The rest of the top 10 smartest places include San Francisco, San Jose, Raleigh, Boston, Austin, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, and New York. Recognize some of these names? Of course you do! Washington, San Francisco, San Jose, Raleigh, Durham (neighbor of Raleigh), Arlington (neighbor of Washington), Austin, St. Paul (neighbor of Minneapolis), Seattle, and New York all ranked amongst the top-spending cities according to the 2010 Bundle Report. Funny, isn't it? The smarter the person, the higher-paying the job. And the higher-paying the job, the higher the spending. Multiply that times about 5.4 million and you've got a metro area like the one straddling Virginia and Maryland. Using Bundle's numbers, we could've figured this out months ago, all on our own!

The numbers can be a little misleading, though. The cities that are, shall we say, among the "least" smart include Riverside (19.2%), Las Vegas (21.2%), Memphis (24.2%), Tampa (24.6%), San Antonio (24.8%), Louisville (24.9%), New Orleans (26.2%), Detroit (26.3%), Orlando (26.6%), and Cleveland (26.9%). You'll notice that San Antonio was the 16th highest-spending city in that Bundle Report, which conflicts with the perceived correlation between college degree concentration and cost of living. However, this is probably due to the fact that San Antonio is an odd convergence of three characteristics: it is a city that caters to a lot of tourists (a "Comforting Region", like Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Orlando), it maintains a large population of construction workers (a "Building Region" like Riverside), and it has a lot of military families (many of whom relocate a lot and may have bypassed higher education for their career). San Antonio has a lot of well-educated people, but it also just has a lot of people who live very comfortably doing things that did not require college degrees.

Also: we could argue that the number of college-educated folks in Detroit and Cleveland (which, it needs to be pointed out, is a figure above the national average of 25 percent) may be smarter than anyone else, as their money tends to go a lot further in those towns than it would in a place like San Francisco.

From there, consider that there are plenty of college degrees that lead into lower-paying fields, like teaching, journalism, and art, and thus, a city like Denver or New York (obviously two highly populated cities) may have a high percentage of college graduates, but those graduates do not make as much as certain other degree-toting people (and thus, they do not spend as much as one would assume).

As his father's only son, Justin Brown was sent to Earth from Krypton in order to show humans the best way in which to spend time online.

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