When looking at things like unemployment levels across the country you live in, or statistics about how much higher average wages in big cities are, it's easy to come away with a skewed or unrealistic view of how much the average person can make. While it's true that the wages of those living in big cities, and even suburbs, are much higher than those in rural areas, does that really mean that city dwellers are better off?
There are a few different aspects worth considering that relate to this topic, but let's look at the biggest draw first - money. For those in executive roles in functions such as marketing and advertising or managerial positions, be it in an office or a retail environment, moving from a more rural area to the city is generally accompanied by a sharp rise in wages. However, the same can’t usually be said for menial minimum wage jobs – although minimum wages vary depending on the age of the recipient, they don’t take location into account.
As a result, there’s often a deficit between the minimum wage and how much it actually costs to live in a city. For example, the ‘living wage’ (i.e. how much someone should be paid to maintain a decent quality of life) in New York is $12.75. That’s $5.50 more than the USA's National Minimum Wage. Likewise, London’s living wage is $14.50 (compared with $12.60 for the rest of the United Kingdom), but the minimum wage in the UK for those over the age of 21 is only $10.40.
One of the biggest costs associated with living in a city is that of housing. It’s generally accepted by most young professionals that, without a steady job and a very sizeable mortgage, owning property in a big city will remain a dream beyond their reach until they climb higher up the career ladder. Unfortunately, the prospect of renting a property is also pretty bleak - keeping a roof over your head is no mean feat at the best of times, but with comparable rental properties going for two or even three times more than those in the suburbs or rural areas, and deposits to the tune of 6-8 weeks worth of rent to secure them, it’s especially difficult in big cities.
With the high cost of rental properties putting city centre living out of the reach of most workers, the next stop is often a far-flung suburb. However, with some monthly Oyster cards costing over $165 per month in London and British railway ‘season tickets’ setting commuters back upwards of $494, a ‘cheap’ rental property can start to look very expensive once travel is factored in. Living in a rural area generally necessitates having a car, whereas city dwellers can often get away without one.
New York may be known as the city that never sleeps, but the rest of them certainly seem to expect you to stay up late too. Overtime, especially in places like startups and agencies, is often both expected and unpaid…the worst combination. Wages in the city may be higher, but unpaid overtime can very quickly dilute a seemingly great hourly rate.
And that’s not the only effect that long hours have on city dwellers – one of the biggest reasons that, according to Match.com, one in five relationships now start online, is that urbanites simply don’t have time to date in the traditional sense of the word. You might think that cutting down on the number of in-person dates people are going on could be saving urbanites some money, but the phenomenon of FOMO (fear of missing out) actually means that they’re still spending substantial amounts of money going out with friends to visit trendy restaurants and bars.
Crime rates are almost always higher in urban locations than in their rural counterparts. The cost of insurance rises in cities, and many may feel more inclined to take out insurance policies that cover items used on the go, such as laptops and smartphones. The price of such policies may seem high, but running the risk of being uninsured is much higher if you’re one of the unlucky few targeted by criminals.
Admittedly, some of the points in this article may go a little further than they should – some rural locations also experience very high levels of crime, and rent control can help make rent payments more manageable, but there are still many hidden costs associated with city life that people often fail to take into account. A recent survey found that 30% of people in rural areas love the neighbourhood in which they live, compared with just 16% of city dwellers. Other studies also suggest that those who live in cities are more prone to disorders and conditions relating to anxiety and stress.
Based on some of the points made above, it’s feasible that city dwellers may find themselves shelling out an extra $16,000 per year – unless that big city job comes with a pay raise in line with that figure, you may want to reconsider the lure of big city living! Of course, for some, the call of the big city simply can’t be denied; a quiet life in the country is just as intolerable to some as a hectic life in the city would be to others. They say ‘life is what you make of it’ and that should always apply, no matter where you choose to hang your hat.