What is the most perfectly average place in the United States and why?

That is a question from Annie Lowrey, who recognizes its (supposed) “extreme folly.”

I’ve thought about this for years, and always Knoxville, Tennessee comes to mind.  Knoxville is big enough to be something, but not a truly large metropolis, being only the third largest city in Tennessee.  It is educated enough to avoid some of the more stereotypical features of the South and indeed it was recently named the #2 “reading city” in America.  It has elements of the South and of Appalachia, two major regions of the country.  Eleven percent of Knox County adults are “binge drinkers.”  It is not one of “12 American boomtowns.”

What else in America might be typical?

Here are nominations of Muncie, Indiana and Kansas City, MO.

Ethnically speaking, Wichita Falls is close to the national norm.

According to this article, high poverty and unemployment are wrecking the averageness of Peoria, Illinois.

Louisville is not a bad pick.

Obviously we must rule out NY, CA, TX, and probably any coastal state as well.  I can see the virtues of selecting a Kansas City suburb, which picks up elements of both the South and the Midwest, but I fear that is in a way too typical.  The most  average place in the United States is in fact just a bit off and has some flavor of its own and choosing Knoxville picks up that too.

Addendum: Matt Yglesias selects Jacksonville, Florida.  Kevin Drum cites marketers in favor of Albany, NY.


I recall that when I was a college student in the late 1960s in Dayton Ohio that a book by Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg (titled The Real Majority) posited that the completely average American was a 47 year old house wife from Daytom with two children and a husband working in one of the factories.


I think it's not quite best anymore but still close.

Growing up in the "bellwether" of the US was enlightening. You learn what sells. Many DR firms were headquartered there. But at a larger level, when you are the test market for normal, you scope of reality is the least normal of anywhere.

1 in 12 infomercials work, so most places only see the working informercial. But in Canton, you saw the other 11 losers in heavy rotation. Hopeful franchise operations from their own little niche berg, are setting up shop, running for a year, closing down and leaving. The NYT sent a reporter to live in our town for a year every other year for elections, and then he'd leave.

If peeps become profession test takers, they stop being good test subjects.

Wichita Falls is in TX, so Texas cannot be completely ruled out.

Why do you exclude coastal states? 23 of 50 states have sea coasts, the population distribution leans heavily towards states with ocean access.

Yeah, that was odd. Central Pennsylvania is indistinguishable in many ways from much of the midwest.

There is some Allistair Cooke quote opining that the US Midwest starts about an hour's drive west from the large east coast cities.

Guess somehow most look at a map and think the average must be closer to the centre than it is to the ends!

27 of the 50 do not, and most states are nearer another coast than the particular coast in question (whatever coast that is).

The 23 coastal states make up 60% of the U.S. population (including D.C. but excluding territories like Puerto Rico and Guam). The largest non-coastal states in terms of population are Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania which sit on the Great Lakes and, in the case of Pennsylvania, still has easy access to the Atlantic Ocean through the Delaware River. After these four states, you are looking at a collection of states with populations of less than 7 million each which account for less than 40% of the population.

Tyler, I'd argue that there is no need to throw out a coastal state. In fact, according to NOAA's State of the Coastal Population Report (http://stateofthecoast.noaa.gov/features/coastal-population-report.pdf), in 2010 39 percent of the US population resides in a coastal shoreline county, and 52 percent of the US population resides in a coastal watershed county. These areas account for less than 10 percent and less than 20 percent of the land in the US, respectively; however, the median american resides in a coastal watershed county. The definitions of coastal shoreline and coastal watershed counties do include great lakes states though.

I'm not sure the question makes sense. What would be the most perfectly average place in Europe?

If you mean Western Europe, perhaps somewhere in Belgium.

Yes, Tyler -- definitely Brussels, where all the super-bureaucrats from all over Europe congregate to make a total mess of things. That, indeed, is the most typical European activity.

There is a small city in Germany (Haßloch), which is intensely researched for marketing purposes because it is has demographics that are very representative of all of Germany.

Or is it just because of the name? Is it a way for low-level market research guys to pull fun ot those above them.


There's no such place. Europe is not a single-language, single-culture area. You err if you you think you can analogise from the USA to Europe. Edinburgh and Rome? Athens and Stockholm? Moscow and Zurich? No comparison.

Not really. Mainz is much to lovely to be the average. :)

Interesting question (and the Bloomberg piece, which is fairy typical of its genre, is a distraction). Roughly half the American population lives in a metropolitan area but not in a central city (eg a suburb), so the most average place will be a suburb.

The suburb should be in a metropolitan area that is growing at just about the average rate of the country -no boomtowns or hollowed out rust belt cities- and I agree with not being on the post. Geographically, the US population center now is in southwestern Missouri. And voting patterns should be close to average too.

Somewhere in Jackson County, Missouri (the Kansas City area) might be the best bet. Of the other two cities in Missouri, Springfield is too Red and St. Louis is declining/ growing too slowly. Little Rock in Arkansas would also be a candidate (again, Fort Smith is too Red).

MAJ Sabatine

Averages are, by definition, bland. You want bland, go to Sweden or Latvia or Tibet. But the US is anything but bland, it's a teeming hodgepodge, a beehive consisting of all kinds of bees buzzing around. Asking for the average American city is to ask for the most un-American city in the country. Ask any immigrant: what's the most American city in the country? I think you'll get consensus on the answer -- it's the Big Apple. NYC has all the elements of America, in spades. Ethnic diversity, bustling commerce and culture, political tensions, crime and corruption, but also life and dynamism like no other place. That's America, and is probably the most typical image of America around the world. Yes, there's a big sleepy fly-over country out there between the coasts, and that's America too -- an America not represented in NYC, I'll admit, except by the young people in the city who come from everywhere. But the real America, the America that anyone really cares about, is NYC. It's not the average city, but it's the most American city. I live in a sleepy southern town called Washington, DC, and that's what I think.

This is almost a parody of the stereotypical NYC mindset. The classic of this genre:

In actuality New York City is an outlier from "average" America in many ways. The fact that you think it is way more important than the rest of America doesn't change that.

Sounds like Pava is selecting "most representative of the external stereotype" not "average."

"Average" according to external stereotype would be whatever the average of New York City, Disney World, California, and a John Wayne film is.

Define "average". The modal American lives in NYC. :p

Mean and median are complicated when we have multiple dimensions.

It sounds like your vision of the "Real America" has more in common with Paris, Moscow, Beijing, etc. than it does with America. If so, then it's a pretty meaningless term.

Ignore the last part of the comment, a phrase from an email I was writing drifted into there! (problems of using too much media at once)

Funcie Muncie! I don't know how typical Muncie really is. It is kind of run down (last I was there 5 years or so ago), more so that some other small Indiana cities (Bloomington, IN, Columbus, IN). Not a bad city, not a great city. It is a very "Applebees America" kind of place.

They did have a pretty good economics program at Ball State (where I got my BA before my MA from GMU).

Pick some variables of interest and do some work with Census data. I don't see any reason to eyeball this one.

+1 And then read "A Patchwork Nation" written by two Pew researchers.

I think all this question does is elicit what people value as their own norm, because they do not wish to deviate too much from the norm, and therefore pick something closer to themselves, rather than something more distant from themselves.

That's why its interesting to see what people describe as normal in this minnie Rorschach test.

I use to work for a British company in Boston. The typical trip for a Brit was to visit New York, Boston and Toronto. I would suggest to them that the most American city they would see was Toronto.

When I think "average," I think "representative of America at large." Of the places I've been, the ones that qualify for that label are: Charlotte, Cleveland, Bangor, Phoenix, and maybe Boise. I agree that Texas is a bit too idiosyncratic to be representative of America at large. Kansas City is not an altogether bad choice, but it is a bit too "midwestern" to be representative of a lot of other places in the country. Omaha might be an overlooked possibility.

Come to think of it, it would be hard to find a more "midwestern" city than KC. Maybe Minneapolis?

I think Minneapolis isn't truly "midwestern" - it's big enough to have its own personality. Some of the suburbs, definitely.

As someone who grew up in rural Wisconsin and now lives in a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul, a true midwestern city is somewhere like Eau Claire, Fargo, Dubuque or St. Cloud. Eau Claire is a test market for a lot of product introductions since it's small enough to be manageable and large enough that it's a regional shopping magnet.

That said, my friends who grew up in Iowa or other places south of MN probably have different opinions.

I've been to St. Cloud! You might be onto something there.

The marketing people say Columbus, Ohio aka "Test Market USA"



It is perfectly average. Ohio is part Midwestern (Dayton), part rust belt (Cleveland, Akron, Toldeo), and part southern (Cincinnati), and Columbus is in between all of those without actually being part of any of them.

Plus we got Febreeze and Olestra way before everyone else.

Are, but are marketers interested in the average of all Americans, or are they interesting in the average of that subset Americans with disposable spending money? The bottom 10% are Americans, too.

Really difficult to blend the concepts of continous math and discrete math

Lake Wobegon, Minnesota.

Nope, way above average.

Too easy?

Higher average means more average than most!

This reminds me of the proof that there are no uninteresting numbers. If there were uninteresting numbers, there must be one that is the smallest uninteresting number and that fact in itself would make the number interesting :-)

What number would you pick as "average"? There seem to be people posting in this thread who would have no hesitation picking 50.


If Mexico is the most average place in America, then the more immigration is allowed, the more authentically American America will become. Nice pro-immigration argument.

I would nominate Spokane, WA. I read somewhere (Readers Digest?) years ago, that Spokane was one of the cities (along with some city in Ohio) that were the quintessential test marketing cities. Declining manufacturing, goofy slogan (near nature, near perfect), bigger city envy (Seattle), revitalized downtown, punk rock, country, original rock, classical, jazz, price conscious shoppers, and a thriving health care industry. Part farm, part mountain, looks to the coast.

Spokane doesn't have nearly enough blacks or Hispanics or Asians to be average.

I live in Knoxville. Tyler is correct. I too have often thought of it as the typical US city. It is a very good place to live. However, Tyler would not like the ethnic food here. it has even lost much of it's own historical "ethnic" food. There is a recurring discussion in the local (fake) indy newspaper about Knoxville not having a recognizable food. http://www.metropulse.com/news/2012/may/23/knoxville-cuisines-identity-crisis/

Not having a single recognizable food is disastrous. Whether the food I eat is good or bad, I at least want to know "this is a hamburger", or "this is a piece of pie".

It is exactly 1/5 - California, 1/5 Texas-OK, 1/5 Midwest (primarily chicago), 1/5 Hispanic, 1/5 South and NE

Denver is ... too much nicer than average to be perfectly average. The beauty of the location and weather alone would probably disqualify it. While it is a varied place, with lots of features reflecting a lot of the rest of America (as you noted), that isn't very usual. The population skews a little young and is very outdoorsey all year round, and very highly educated. And the arts are much more highly developed than it would be in an average town.

Whatever city is chosen has to have at least one professional sports team. It should probably be a purple state, so let's say Ohio. How about Cincinnati, which is practically Kentucky anyway.

Absolutely nowhere in Nevada. Rule that one out too.

Isn't "Absolutely nowhere in Nevada" rather redundant?

The Las Vegas metropolitan area is now a bit over two million people. Nevada as a whole has more people than 15 other states. Of course, Las Vegas isn't particularly typical...

Yeah, I know, but I still couldn't resist...

About 50% of the population lives in urban areas larger than Dayton and a little more than 50% live in urban areas larger than Knoxville. So by a certain definition, Knoxville is a good choice. But if you look at it another way, 104M people live in urban areas larger than 2M people and only 73M live in urban areas between 100K and 1M people. And that actually underestimates the disparity because certain smallish defined urban areas are actually located right next to big ones (Round Rock TX pop 100K is right next to Austin) and so the experience and job opportunities are related to living in the larger urban area. So more people experience big city living than medium city living. Does it really make sense to say that a medium city living experience represents the average experience between living in a big city and a small one? I say no. You can't average living experiences. Instead, I'll claim that living in a largish city forms the largest group of similar lifestyle experiences for Americans. So I'd pick an urban area over 2M people that has the right culture (whatever that means to you). St. Louis seems like a good choice.

Peoria has seen much of its growth in its suburbs and periphery, and loss of residential density has hurt downtown business. This might be considered a normal problem.

BTW/ The Peoria MSA's unemployment rate was lower that the national average as recently as September. The whole state appears to be sliding into a recession.

Couldn't resist - thank you, Johnny Cash.

"I've Been Everywhere"

I was totin' my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road,
When along came a semi with a high an' canvas-covered load.
"If you're goin' to Winnemucca, Mack, with me you can ride."
And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside.
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand.
And I said, "Listen, I've traveled every road in this here land!"

I've been everywhere, man.
I've been everywhere, man.
Crossed the desert's bare, man.
I've breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been everywhere.

I've been to:
Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota,
Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota,
Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma,
Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma,
Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo,
Tocapillo, Baranquilla, and Perdilla, I'm a killer.


I've been to:
Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana,
Washington, Houston, Kingston, Texarkana,
Monterey, Faraday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa,
Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little Rock, Oskaloosa,
Tennessee to Tennesse Chicopee, Spirit Lake,
Grand Lake, Devils Lake, Crater Lake, for Pete's sake.


I've been to:
Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Ombabika,
Schefferville, Jacksonville, Waterville, Costa Rica,
Pittsfield, Springfield, Bakersfield, Shreveport,
Hackensack, Cadillac, Fond du Lac, Davenport,
Idaho, Jellico, Argentina, Diamantina,
Pasadena, Catalina, see what I mean-a.


I've been to:
Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravelbourg, Colorado,
Ellensburg, Rexburg, Vicksburg, Eldorado,
Larimore, Admore, Haverstraw, Chatanika,
Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska, Opelika,
Baraboo, Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City,
Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge City, what a pity.


The Australian version is better:
Tullamore, Seymour, Lismore, Mooloolaba, Nambour, Maroochydore, Kilmore, Murwillumbah, Birdsville, Emmaville, Wallaville, Cunnamulla, Condamine, Strathpine, Proserpine, Ulladulla, Darwin, Gin Gin, Deniliquin, Muckadilla, Wallumbilla, Boggabilla, Kumbarilla.

Verse 2
Moree, Taree, Jerilderie, Bambaroo, Toowoomba, Gunnedah, Caringbah, Woolloomooloo, Dalveen, Tamborine, Engadine, Jindabyne, Lithgow, Casino, Brigalow, Narromine, Megalong, Wyong, Tuggerawong, Wanganella, Morella, Augathella, Brindabella

Verse 3
Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullumbimby, Mittagong, Cooranbong, Grong Grong, Goondiwindi, Yarra Yarra,[2] Bouindarra, Wallangarra, Turramurra, Boggabri, Gundagai, Narrabri, Tibooburra, Gulgong, Adelong, Billabong, Cabramatta, Parramatta, Wangaratta, Coolangatta

Verse 4
Ettalong, Dandenong, Woodenbong, Ballarat, Canberra, Milperra, Unanderra, Captains Flat, Cloncurry, River Murray, Kurri Kurri, Girraween, Terrigal, Stockinbingal, Collaroy, Narrabeen, Bendigo, Dorrigo, Bangalow, Indooroopilly, Kirribilli, Yeerongpilly, Wollondilly

The most American accent is Midwestern, specifically in this area:

"The area with Midwestern regional properties is indicated on the map: eastern Nebraska (including Omaha and Lincoln); northwestern, southern, and central Iowa (including Des Moines and the Iowa-side Quad Cities), with an adjacent narrow strip of northern Missouri; and western Illinois (including Peoria and the Illinois-side Quad Cities. Notably, this section of Illinois does not include the Chicago area)."

I would vote for one of those cities, perhaps Des Moines or Omaha.

St. Louis, Columbus, Raleigh

For the future of America: Oxnard, ca, Fairfax, va

Did you choose Fairfax, VA because in the future everyone will work for the Federal Government?

I think the Denver comment just about gets it right, and that's what I immediately thought when I read Tyler's post, except I thought any Denver suburb (though not one of the two infamous for public gun massacres), and it captures the westward/southward migration over the past half-century. Green chili and winter sports, I think, are enough to give it an edge.

I can think of a number of reasons to exclude Denver and its suburbs. Not least is that I'm sitting here, on May 1, watching the snow fall outside my office window.

also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suttree

Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois.

Personally, I like Knoxville, but Kansas City (or some other midwestern place) is probably a better choice.

I'm not religious, but half the country is. And Knoxville is not very religiously diverse, so it isn't representative enough to be average.

Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental United States (by area), so that's a non-starter.

In terms of population, the Census-defined Jacksonville metropolitan area is only 40th. As has been pointed out, the vast majority of Americans live in cities and suburbs.

Jacksonville seems right. It is, in many ways, the perfect examplar of the late 20th century American city. America as it is, not as it likes to think of itself.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or Columbus, Ohio. Charlotte is too Southern, but Kansas City might be another good representative city.

By doing a lazy search for Agee and Barber, it seems no-one has mentioned Samuel Barber's wonderful Knoxville 1915. Whether Knoxville today is or is not average, this piece seems to me to epitomise small-town America's values - progress, family, nostalgia for something that was only briefly true but no less valuable for that.

Tulsa is average in a number of senses, including that it is on the border between the south, southwest and midwest, and thus not dominated by any of those regional cultures. Other dimensions are weather, size and location.

Rent " Magic Town", with Jimmy Stewart in which he finds Average City, USA?...

The perfectly average place should be suburbanized, because most of us live in suburbs. It should be a metropolitan area of some significant size. It should be small enough so that children there might aspire to grow up and move someplace bigger and splashier, and big enough so that it has many who think they've done just that. It shouldn't be old, and it should be connected in some cultural sense to the newness of the West, but neither should it be entirely a post-war city. There should be an old money establishment, and they should be important and incestuous and irrelevant. It should have industries significant enough to bring diverse populations, and yet it shouldn't be dominated by that. It should have a significant black population, both pre-Great Migration and post. It should have a significant and growing Hispanic population. It should have a professional sports team, preferably baseball if only one. It should be religiously diverse, not dominated by Baptists or Catholics or Mormons or evangelicals more generally, and not dominated by those without such commitments,but including all of these. It should have a local cuisine that everyone has opinions about, even if their opinions are uninformed and even if that local cuisine is one that many other places seem to think they have as well. It should have snowy winters, and hot summers. It should be home to too many chain restaurants, and to hipsters who would never set foot in one. It shouldn't be dominated by any particular employer or institution, such as a university or state government.

Except for the Navy dominating the economy that description sounds a whole lot like Norfolk and the surrounding area.

Between 1992 and 2002, the average MSA had around 600,000 residents, 2.2 billion in aggregate income, a median house value around $100,000, and covered 2.34 counties (note on my data: because I was looking at state law impact on MSA size, I broke MSAs at the state border, so this may be artificially small). But the data are massively skewed and the medians are much lower. The range on population goes from 50,000 to 12 million (which is New York City within the state of New York).

Nonetheless, we asked for averages. The 5 closest MSAs were Mobile, AL; Daytona Beach, FL; Pensacola, FL; Akron, OH; and Canton-Massilon (Ohio side).

5 closest to Median (200,000 residents) were Merced, CA; Gainesville, FL; Bloomington-Normal (Illinois side); and Lubbock, TX.

I lived In Knoxville for a while and found it more pleasant than the average city. But perhaps the averageness made it pleasant.

My vote goes to Kansas City, in the sense that there's no part of the country, or possibly the world that feels utterly different from Kansas City. If you ignore the language, Unter den Linden Strasse could easily pass for downtown KC.

Richard Lingeman of "The Nation" grew up in Crawfordsville IN and in 1980 published "Small Town America." He talks a bit about Hamilton OH and Muncie IN, but he names my hometown, Greenville OH as the most middle of Middle America. I have reported this information to FB page, "You know you're from Greenville if....," and most folks don't like to think of themselves as so representative or so 'average.' Ah well....

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I grew up in Knoxville and now live in Madison, WI. I have lived for several months minimum in Wichita Falls and San Angelo (TX), Oklahoma City, and Denver. I have never lived on the coast. My opinion is that Knoxville is a pretty good bet. Madison is too perfectly run, too liberal, and too cold to be average. Knoxville is overly conservative to be average, but hits the mark on so many other points, like the comment on suburbs. Knoxville was once voted one of the Nation's most sprawled cities. It also may have too much reliance on Federal Govt' work through it's proximity to Oak Ridge. Wichita Falls and OKC have too many tornadoes and wind to be average - as well as an oil-based economy. Denver, is way too big...but it is the future of average.

Most boring city? There's a reason Indianapolis is nicknamed "nap" town.

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