Pete Mills, Policy Intern at Think NC First

Whether it is the mountains in autumn, the dogwood blossoms in spring, or the Outer Banks in midsummer, North Carolinians have a lot of reason to enjoy living in the Tar Heel State. But how does life in North Carolina compare to the rest of the country?

According to a new Gallup study, life in the ‘land of the pines’ is improving, but one aspect of North Carolinians’ lives continues to lag behind. While many feel a strong sense of purpose and connection to their communities, the majority reported financial strain as a significant burden on their quality of life. By this metric, North Carolina ranked as one of the worst places to live, and a failure to address this shortcoming could jeopardize the state’s recent overall gains.

According to the 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, North Carolinians enjoy a better quality of life overall than many across the country. The state ranked 19th, up from 32nd the previous year.[i]

overall state rankings

The Gallup-Healthways study included more than 175,000 interviews with American adults across all 50 states. The Index aims at capturing how people feel about their quality of life. Participants responded to questions regarding their well-being according to several categories. Each measured different aspects of a person’s general well-being, such as whether they like what they do each day or have supportive and loving relationships. The composite score of these categories helped create a picture of someone’s quality of life and collectively, the well-being of each state’s population.

North Carolina’s strong ranking was largely due to high scores in a few categories. The state ranked 8th in social, 13th in purpose, and 18th in community. North Carolinians feel a strong sense of connection to those in their lives and their communities, and feel that what they do each day is important.

Also helping the state’s overall rise in the rankings were several cities that have emerged as nationwide leaders. North Carolina was one of only three states, including California and Texas, to have two communities  - Raleigh and Winston-Salem - rank in the top 10 among large urban centers. Raleigh earned the highest ranking in North Carolina at 3rd overall, with Winston-Salem placing 10th. Raleigh’s ranking is the highest for any North Carolina community since Gallup began its Well-Being Index and marks its sixth straight year in the top 30. Charlotte (32nd) and Greensboro (61st) also appeared in the top 100.

Despite North Carolina’s improvement in the rankings, one metric continues to drag down North Carolinians’ well-being. The state ranked 41st overall for financial well-being, the only category in which North Carolina fell into the bottom half. Particularly worrisome, North Carolinians ranked 43rd in ability to buy food or healthcare and only 35 percent said they had “enough money to do everything they want to do.”

North Carolina’s poor financial well-being score could threaten its overall gains. It was the only state in the top 20 with a financial ranking in the bottom 10, which could indicate a regression in other categories if it doesn’t improve. Among all well-being categories, financial well-being was most closely correlated to a state’s overall ranking. Without enough money to buy food, healthcare, or other essentials, North Carolinians will likely begin to feel worse about other aspects of their lives.

financial well-being

North Carolina’s overall improvement in the rankings demonstrates a positive trend that could make it a leader in the region. But residents and policymakers should not mistake this trend as predictive so long as so many suffer from persistent financial strain. Policymakers should address this shortcoming by increasing access to healthcare and affordable food, along with leveraging the state’s population growth towards greater economic opportunities. With so many reasons to love living in the Tar Heel State, these policies could help North Carolina rise even further in next year’s rankings and even closer to becoming a place where everyone can live well. 


[i] Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index. (2015). 2014 State Well-Being Rankings. Available at