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The Best Places for Young Families in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin is known for its dairy farms and for having some of the most frigid temperatures in North America, or anywhere else, really. The state warms up to young families in a host of other ways, however. If you are house-hunting in the Badger State, you will find sturdy, attractive residential architecture, abundant farm communities and picturesque coastlines. And the Green Bay Packers always give their fans a reason for their devotion.

Just be sure to do thorough research on how you will afford your new family abode. LendingTree offers a wealth of information and useful tips on everything that you need to educate and prepare yourself for the homebuying process, such as how to meet minimum mortgage requirements. You might also read up on how to get preapproved for a home loan. This might come in handy because many of the towns in our ranking are communities where families with children earn six-figure incomes, suggesting affluence and more expensive homes.

Judging where is best for your family in Wisconsin will entail weighing a range of factors, from housing costs to commuting times. No one factor is likely to drive your decision. Based on a number of factors, researchers at LendingTree compiled a list of the best places for young families in Wisconsin.

Key takeaways

Rib Mountain is the best place to raise a family in Wisconsin, with a final score of 77.3.
Harrison and Elm Grove take the second and third spots with final scores of 75.7 and 72.2, respectively.

On the other end of the list, we found Waupaca to be the most challenging place for young families in Wisconsin, with a final score of 37.2.

Milwaukee and Antigo finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 41.6 and 41.9, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Wisconsin

#1 Rib Mountain

The Wisconsin River has several wide areas that resemble lakes, and on the banks of the southern bulge, you will find Rib Mountain, which tops the ranking with a score of 77.3 points. The median household income for families with children is $128,839 and the median cost of housing per month is a low $920. A tiny number of households, 28.7%, have children. Out of those, 87.6% own their homes. Statistically, the unemployment rate is nil, as is the rate of 16- to 19-year-olds who are not enrolled in, or graduated from, high school. The commute to work is an easy 14.6 minutes on average.

#2 Harrison

Harrison certainly could earn the nickname Land of Lakes, with Lake Michigan, Lake Winnebego and Little Lake Butte Des Morts, all nearby. It makes the second ranking with a score of 75.7. It does appear to be a fairly affluent community for families. Among families with children, the median household income is $111,850, and the monthly median cost of housing is $1,322. Households with children in Harrison are in the minority, 44.1%, and out of that amount almost all, 93.9%, own their homes. The rate of unemployment in Harrison among 25- to 44-year-olds is less than 1%, at 0.3%, far below Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 3.0%. Workers travel an average of 20.7 minutes to their destinations.

#3 Elm Grove

Elm Grove has been featured in “best suburbs in America” articles previously, such as a 2014 Business Insider write-up, and it lands in the #3 slot with a score of 72.2. The village has a median household income of $194,083 among households with families, the highest of all towns in the ranking. On a monthly basis, the median cost of housing is $1,471. A minority of households in Elm Grove, 32.7%, has children, and virtually all of those, 96.7%, own their homes. The unemployment rate among 25- to 44-year-olds in Elm Grove, 2.7%, is the second highest among the towns in the Top 10. The commute to work for Elm Grove residents is an average of 22.4 minutes.

#4 Whitefish Bay

This village, a suburb of Milwaukee, makes it onto the ranking with a score of 69.1, and by LendingTree’s measures, it is a place that attracts financially comfortable families. The median household income among families with children is $156,506, and the median cost of housing on a monthly basis is $1,697. Less than half of its households, 41.2%, have children, while 85.7% of those households own their homes. The unemployment rate, 2.4%, is substantially below the statewide average. Statistically, all of Whitefish Bay’s 16- to 19-year-olds are either enrolled in, or have graduated from, high school. And the average commute time is 20.3 minutes.

#5 Waunakee

Situated slightly to the north of Madison, on the other side of Lake Mendota, Waunakee rounds out the Top 5, in a tie with Whitefish Bay, with a score of 69.1. The median household income among families is $143,491, and the monthly median cost of housing is $1,490. The number of households with children is in the minority, 39.6%, while the homeownership rate among them is 85.1%. It has another important advantage — unemployment among 25- to 44-year-olds is just 1.7%, well below Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 3.0%.

#6 Hobart

Hobart is known as a premiere residential area in Wisconsin’s Brown County and has other distinguishing qualities, such as family farms and the fact that it is geographically intertwined with territories of the Native American Oneida Nation. The median household income among families with children is $113,860, and the monthly median cost of housing is $1,119. Just 34.8% of households in Hobart have children, but among that group, 82.1% own their homes. Only 2.1% of adults between 25 and 44 years old are unemployed, and the ride to work does not appear to be a burden, just 20 minutes.

#7 West Salem

West Salem makes the ranking with seemingly fewer resources than other towns on the list, but achieved a score of 68.6. In West Salem, the median household income for families is $89,412, and the median monthly cost of housing is $1,009. More than a third of households, 33.5%, have children and among those, 74.1% own their homes. The rate of unemployment among 25- to 44-year-olds is extremely low, 0.9%, and the average commute to work is 17.8 minutes.

#8 Lake Hallie

Lake Hallie is a suburb of Green Bay and makes the list with a score of 67.5. Households with children have a median income of $85,729, and the median monthly cost of housing there is $968. A smaller portion of households has children, 37.2%, and 67.3% of those families own their homes. Unemployment is low in Lake Hallie, at just 1.7%, and the commute to work is relatively short, an average of 18.2 minutes. 

#9 Sussex

Sussex, a suburb of Milwaukee, lies about 25 miles to the west of Lake Michigan, and it lands as #9 with a score of 66.7. Well under half of the households in Sussex, 38.5%, have children, and out of that group, 80.4% have their own homes. Median income for family households is $106,563, and their median monthly housing cost is $1,218. The unemployment rate among adults 25- to 44-years-old was just 2.0%, a full point below the state average. The average commuting time to work is just 23.2 minutes.

#10 Cedarburg

Located about 20 miles north of Milwaukee and near Lake Michigan itself, Cedarburg rounds out the list of the top 10 best places for young families in Wisconsin. It earns a score of 65.8. The town’s families appear to be well-off, with a median household income of $127,596, and the monthly median cost of housing is $1,070. Just under one-third of households in Cedarburg, 30.3%, have children, and 86.0% of those households own their homes. It is the only town where unemployment among 25- to 44-year-olds, at 3.4%, is higher than the state rate. Statistically, all of the 16- to 19-year-olds in the town are accounted for, as 0% are not enrolled in or have not graduated from high school.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 5,000 people in Wisconsin 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 are:

  • 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 childcare 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 25-44 year olds: This indicates where the job market is healthy and suggests a higher quality of life, locally. We focus on 25- to 44-year-olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.
  • Percentage of 16-19 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.


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 5,000.


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