California was ranked last out of all U.S. states in quality of life and ranked the 32nd overall best state by U.S. News & World Report.
Quality of life is one of eight categories that were considered in ranking the states overall, and the discrepancy between the two rankings is due to the specificity of the quality of life rank compared to the generality of the overall rank. The quality of life category considers equally the state’s natural environment, which includes air and water pollution, and its social environment, which covers community engagement.
Quality of life is only one factor in the overall state rankings. While California ranked lowest in quality of life, it ranked fourth in economy strength and 11th in health care.
Although California ranks low in quality of life, that does not necessarily mean that its residents are unhappy, according to Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center.
“For the most part, people can be happy despite having a low quality of life,” Simon-Thomas said.
Additionally, she said quality of life is tied to more materialistic things, such as access to resources, while happiness is associated with positive emotions and the strength of social relationships. The optimal amount of money to be happy was last measured to be about $70,000 per year, according to Simon-Thomas.
Within the subcategories of natural and social environments, California is last in urban air quality, 49th in voter participation and 44th in community engagement. Despite having a top-ranking economy, the California economy is concentrated in a handful of industries, according to the report — Simon-Thomas added that this results in low opportunity and high inequality.
“It is clear that there are ways California could work on strengthening its institutions to be more collective,” Simon-Thomas said. “Individuals can do things, but it’s not enough to change a statewide quality of life.”