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The Best Places for Young Families in New Hampshire

Hanover, New Hampshire

Is your family growing to a party of three, four or five? Whether you’re starting out as a new parent or growing your brood, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is where to put down roots and buy a home. Selecting the right place requires a hard look at a community’s schools, cost of living, job opportunities, commute times and kid-friendly activities. It also helps if you’ll be surrounded by plenty of other families that also value these qualities.

New Hampshire is compact in size, but the official motto is “Live Free or Die,” and this New England state lets families enjoy a very active lifestyle and high standard of living. It offers plenty of community options, from active college towns and suburbs to quieter mountain communities. Because of New Hampshire’s location, most offer easy access to forests, lakes, beaches and mountains. Here’s a list researchers at LendingTree compiled ranking the best places for young families in this state.

Key takeaways

  • Hanover is the best place to raise a family in New Hampshire, with a final score of 71.9.
  • South Hooksett and Belmont take the second and third spots, with final scores of 66.9 and 62.6, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Newmarket to be the most challenging place for young families in New Hampshire, with a final score of 32.9.
  • Hudson and Portsmouth finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 36.4 and 44.0 respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in New Hampshire

No. 1: Hanover

Families will probably pay a premium to live in Hanover, which is on the Vermont border and home to Dartmouth College. This affluent college town has the state’s highest median income for families with children, as well as the highest housing costs, a median of $1,590 monthly. For some families, the investment may be worth it: Hanover has strong schools, nearly 0% unemployment for 25- to 44-year-olds and an average commute time of just 12 minutes, the shortest we found in the state.  Living here means foregoing quick, big-city access in exchange for a bounty of outdoor choices, such as skiing and biking in the Green Mountains and White Mountains, which surround the city on either side. The only potential drawback? Like many college towns, just 22.8% of Hanover households have children.

No. 2: South Hooksett

As a suburb of Manchester, South Hooksett offers a village vibe, but with access to both jobs and entertainment in New Hampshire’s largest city. Like Hanover, housing costs here are high — a median of $1,434 monthly — while household income is considerably lower. Still, almost 81% of families with children own homes, and prospects for both jobs and strong schools are excellent. With an average commute time of 22 minutes, it’s likely many residents work in the Manchester area. Off hours, families have recreational choices that include the SEE Science Center, the McIntyre Ski Area and Bear Brook State Park, New Hampshire’s largest developed state park.

No. 3: Belmont

For many young families, Belmont clearly offers plenty to like. To be sure, the unemployment rate in this small town about 20 miles north of Concord, the state capital, is the highest we found in New Hampshire (11.9%). Still, more households have children here than in any other New Hampshire community on our list. Thanks to lower housing costs — but still decent household incomes — Belmont also has the highest percentage of families with children that own homes, 93.1%. In their spare time, families living here can access three nearby lakes as well as the high-octane energy of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in nearby Loudon.

No. 4: Durham

Home to the University of New Hampshire, Durham is a small college town in southeastern New Hampshire, near both Portsmouth and the Maine coast. It has a very high median household income, low unemployment and a flawless high school graduation rate. Housing costs here are high, a median of $1,230 per month, but about 80% of families with children own homes. For some families, the biggest drawback to living here might be finding plenty of peers; only 17.2% of households have children, the lowest percentage we found in New Hampshire. Still, nearby family-friendly activities abound, including Wallis Sands State Beach, about a half-hour drive to the south, the White Mountains to the north for skiing and hiking and the colonial settlements at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth.

No. 5: Hampton

On New Hampshire’s Atlantic Coast, Hampton offers the potential for family-friendly, seaside living with Boston only an hour away. About a quarter of families have children in this small town, and homeownership among families with kids is strong, 84.4%. Still, Hampton might be a pricey option for many young families. The median housing cost is $1,531 per month, the third highest in New Hampshire after Hanover and Londonderry (No. 8). On the plus side, household incomes are high, and prospects for both jobs and good schools are excellent. Families moving here should be prepared for a longer commute, an average of 25.2 minutes.

No. 6: Littleton

On the edge of the White Mountains, near the Vermont border, Littleton is for families willing to commit to a lower-key pace. This small town has a bustling downtown, but living here is largely about the outdoors, which includes access to a 22-mile network of trails built for mountain biking, skiing, hiking and running. Families can expect the lowest housing costs of any community we surveyed — the median is $687 per month — but the annual median household income, $32,995 per year, is also the lowest. Affordable housing costs help explain why some 60% of families with children own homes. While fewer households have children in Littleton than in most of our top-rated New Hampshire communities, local schools appear to be excellent.

No. 7: Exeter

To many families, this town is synonymous with education, thanks to the local presence of  Phillips Exeter Academy. Exeter is small, but there’s a strong foundation for families in this southern New Hampshire community, which is northwest of Hampton and about an hour from Boston. A quarter of local residents have children and, among families with kids, almost 77% own homes. Meanwhile, Exeter gets top marks for very high employment and good high schools. If there’s any question about moving here, it’s that housing costs compared to household income are higher than in some higher-ranked communities, such as South Hooksett and Durham.

No. 8: Londonderry

Like South Hooksett,  Londonderry, a suburb of Manchester, offers a small-town feel, but with access to the conveniences of a city, where major employers offer jobs in health care, education, insurance and banking. Londonderry’s proximity to Manchester helps explain why unemployment is low and household income is high, a median of $115,573 per year. Some 77% of families with children own homes, but housing costs are steep, a median of $1,586 per month, almost the same as in top-ranked Hanover. Working parents can expect a more complicated commute; averaging 29 minutes, it’s the longest for a top 10 community.

No. 9: Keene

With an estimated 23,000 residents, Keene, in southern New Hampshire, is one of the largest communities to make the top 10 list. Young families can fill weekends with local  attractions, such as the Cheshire Children’s Museum, the Granite Gorge ski area and the 615-acre Horatio Colony Nature Preserve. With a median housing cost of $1,133 monthly, Keene offers families a more affordable alternative to some other top 10 cities, but families can expect lower household incomes and only a 62% homeownership rate. On the upside, Keene’s unemployment is low, its high school graduation rates are excellent, and the average commute time is just 16.4 minutes, second only to Hanover.

No. 10: Concord

With an estimated population of about 43,400, Concord, New Hampshire’s capital, is the largest city on our top 10 list. Unemployment is low here; the state is the top employer, but other employers are in health care, insurance and education. Living here may mean some trade-offs. For example, while the median household income is almost $80,000 per year, the homeownership rate for families with children is the lowest for a top-ranked community, 59.6%. Still, 28% of Concord households have children, which is about the middle of the range for our New Hampshire places. As in much of the state, families in Concord will find plenty to do, including skiing at three nearby resorts, visiting the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center science and space museum, and kayaking and canoeing.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 1,883 people in New Hampshire 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 1,883.

 

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