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The Best Places for Young Families in Arkansas

Families just starting out have plenty to consider when searching for a new home. Sure, affordable mortgage rates are often a top priority, but happy homebuying also depends on a host of lifestyle factors, such as local job prospects, commute times, nearby families who also have kids and schools that deliver when it comes to quality and graduation rates. It’s unlikely any single community will be perfect on every front, but it’s still possible to find places that score exceptionally high on many levels.

If you’re looking for a place for your family, a number of communities in Arkansas — especially in the northwestern corner of the state — are benefitting from a combination of strong population growth, good job prospects and quality-of-life improvements, such as the Razorback Regional Greenway that connects six towns from Bentonville to Fayetteville. Read on to see to see how Arkansas ranks when it comes to the best places for young families, as compiled by researchers at LendingTree.

Key takeaways

  • Cave Springs is the best place to raise a family in Arkansas, with a final score of 75.9.
  • De Queen and Berryville take the second and third spots, with final scores of 72.5 and 70.8, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Helena-West Helena  to be the most challenging place for young families in Arkansas, with a final score of 35.8.
  • Alma and Clinton finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 44.5 and 44.8, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Arkansas

No. 1: Cave Springs

Cave Springs, in fast-growing northwestern Arkansas, took top billing on our list. It has, by far, the highest homeownership rate for families with children of any Arkansas community we surveyed, 91%. It also has the highest household income and the second-largest percentage of households with children on our top 10 list. As you might expect, housing costs are higher, too, a median $1,442 per month. But unemployment is a very low 1% for 25- to 44-year-olds, and the percentage of 16- to 19-year olds not enrolled or graduated from high school is 0%. This small town is in a scenic corner of the Ozark Mountains; yet, it is also part of an expanding metro area that includes cities such as Springdale and Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas.

No. 2: De Queen

Located in southwestern Arkansas, in the Tri-Lakes region, De Queen took the second spot on this list due to a combination of affordability and family-friendly features. Household income here is one of the lowest on our top 10 list, just $42,188 per year; yet, more than half of households have children, and more than 78% of those households own their homes. Meanwhile, De Queen sports a very low unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds (1.8%), and virtually all older teens are either enrolled in or have graduated from high school.

No. 3: Berryville

Like Cave Springs, Berryville is also in the Ozark Mountains in northwestern Arkansas. This small town has a median household income similar to that in De Queen — just $42,152 per year; yet, almost 70% of families with children are homeowners. That may be because housing costs are very low — a median of $604 per month — as is unemployment, just 2% for 25- to 44-year-olds. Berryville also has the second-lowest commute time on our top 10 list, averaging only about 15 minutes.

No. 4: Bentonville

Bentonville’s proximity to Rogers, where mega-retailer Walmart’s first store opened, propelled the small city into both a commercial and cultural hub in northwestern Arkansas. Household income here is the second-highest on our top 10 list, so it’s no surprise that housing costs are higher, too, $1,019 per month. Still, almost 44% of households have children in Bentonville, and 62.5% of families with children own homes. In 2011, Bentonville’s cultural standing rose with the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, located on a 120-acre forested property also home to miles of trails.

No. 5: Lowell

Like Cave Springs, Lowell is also in the bustling Fayetteville metro area. Families here, on average, make sharply less than they do in Bentonville, and the median housing cost of $923 per month is higher relative to income. Still, almost half of Lowell households have children, and the rate of homeownership is still high, 61.4%. Like Bentonville, Lowell has a higher (though still low) percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school than six communities on our top 10 list whose rate is 0%.

No. 6: Greenwood

Greenwood, in western Arkansas, is about 12 miles from the Fort Smith metropolitan area. Compared to Lowell, this small town of about 9,000 residents has higher household incomes, lower housing costs and a higher homeownership rate for families with children, 71.5%. It’s also one of six top 10 communities in Arkansas with exemplary high school graduation rates. Still, unemployment is slightly higher here, 3.2% for 25- to 44-year-olds, and the average commute time is 24.6 minutes, the second longest on our top 10 list.

No. 7: Vilonia

This central Arkansas community, about 40 miles north of Little Rock, has mid-range housing costs and household incomes. Still, many families seem to prefer it here; for those with children, Vilonia has a homeownership rate of 80.4%, the second highest on our list. Like half of our highest-rated communities in Arkansas, about 50% of households in Vilonia have children. One potential drawback to this popular area? An average commute time of almost 29 minutes, the longest on our list, probably because many residents drive to larger communities, such as Conway and Little Rock, for work.

No. 8: Batesville

Located beside the White River in north-central Arkansas, Batesville came in at No. 8 on this list largely because it has both the highest rate of unemployment for a top Arkansas community (3.6%) and the highest number of older teens not enrolled or graduated from high school (3.9%). Both numbers are still low compared to some communities farther down in our ranking.  Meanwhile, the cost of housing in Batesville is low, a median of $661 per month, incomes are low, too, a median of $50,125 per year, and about two-thirds of families with children own their homes. One redeeming factor to living here: an average commute time of just 13.1 minutes, the lowest of all 10 cities.

No. 9: Green Forest

Green Forest, a small town with about  3,000 residents, is also in the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas. Household income here is the lowest on our top 10 list ($36,681 per year), but housing costs are appropriately low, too. Meanwhile, Green Forest appears to shine on a number of other family-friendly fronts. Despite relatively low household incomes, almost 46% of Green Forest households with children own homes, and almost 44% of households have children. Employment prospects appear strong here, too, as do high school graduation rates.

No. 10: Centerton

In northwestern Arkansas, on the outskirts of Bentonville, Centerton also appears to be benefitting from the growth spurt in this area. Household income is higher here, $74,126 per year, but so is the cost of housing, a median of $1,060 per year. Two wins are the 0% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds and an average commute time of 21.7 minutes, which puts this community roughly in the middle of our top Arkansas places. Centerton has the second-largest percentage of older teens not enrolled or graduated from high school, 3.3%. But it also has a decent rate of homeownership and the highest percentage of households with children, 52.8%.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 2,060 people in Arkansas for how good they are for young families, which were then scored to create an overall ranking of the best places for young families. The seven indicators we used were:

  • Median family income: Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests a place with good job opportunities and a community with more resources.
  • Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with new child care expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.
  • Homeownership rate of families with children: This indicates where homeownership is both more common and — perhaps important for a family looking to buy — more practical.
  • Unemployment rate of 25- to 44-year-olds: This indicates where the job market is healthy and suggests a higher quality of life locally. We focused on 25- to 44-year-olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.
  • Percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school: To estimate high school graduation rates and, therefore, school quality, we calculated the percentage of older teenagers who were not in high school yet had no high school degree. This number is not the actual high school dropout rate, but is well-correlated.
  • Average commute time: Shorter commutes mean less stressed workers who have more time to spend with their families.
  • Percentage of households that have children: A community with more children means that other families have already decided it’s attractive. It also usually means more educational and recreational activities suitable for children and their parents and that residents are concerned about policies that benefit families with kids.

Methodology

Analysts used data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey by the U.S. Census.  Each of the seven metrics was given a value according to its relative location between the highest and lowest values. The values were then summed and divided by seven for an equal weighting. The analysis was limited to Census-designated places with populations of at least 2,060.

 

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