New research examines how professional choose where to live. “Edgy, dense and urban” less important than you might think.

A lot has been written about differences between urban and rural areas, where millenials want to live, and the housing affordability challenges in many of America’s prosperous tech-centric cities. A new survey sheds more light on what professionals look for when they decide where they want to live. And it contains a few surprises.

The Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University just completed a national survey, fielded and tabulated by The Cicero Group, of 1,191 professionals: people aged 25-64 with household incomes greater than $80,000, and who work in education, healthcare, information technology, finance or other professional services jobs. We asked respondents to rate which general non-work factors, which educational and social non-work factors, and which work-related factors were most important to them in determining where they would want to move, assuming an attractive job opportunity presented itself…

Overall, the results surprised us by how young and middle aged professionals —who are almost uniformly said to prefer living in an edgy, dense urban environment— actually opt for far more traditional, or even banal, alternatives. Professionals are more focused on family lifestyle issues as they consider where they would want to live. While they do not want to live in a cultural wasteland, they prioritize outdoor activities, a lack of crowding and an affordable house over exciting nightlife.

The expressed preferences are backed up by data.

These preferences are reflected in the real life choices professionals made. Research by Chapman’s Erika Orejola, using 2015 ESRI data, shows that 25 of the top 30 counties with the highest concentrations of individuals earning $75,000 or more are largely or entirely suburban.

The top non-work factor isn’t terribly surprising.

Housing costs were clearly the most important factor they considered. Weather was second. Parks and open spaces, access to culture, outdoor recreation and population size were clustered together as the next most important variables. People employed in the education and healthcare fields did not consider an area’s nightlife to be as important a criterion for relocation as those in other professions.

Despite the current housing affordability crisis in Seattle, the metro area remains a top contender according to the Chapman survey.

We gave professionals a choice of 25 metro areas to choose from. These areas were selected by looking at the census data changes in the past decade and seeing where the highest concentrations of professional jobs were located.

…we see that professionals view San Diego as the most attractive metro in the country. That may seem counter-intuitive, given the high actual cost of real estate in Southern California and the high tax levels in California in general. However, professionals do not appear to perceive San Diego as being among the top 10 highest cost places to live. That distinction falls to New York, followed closely by San Francisco.

Denver, Charlotte, Seattle, Austin and Raleigh are next in line in terms of perceived attractiveness overall.

Seattle ranked seventh in perceived costs, behind New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, Washington DC, and Boston. Interesting research.