Neurotic New York or Nice New Orleans: Which US City Suits You Best?

map of america
Where do I belong?

I fell in love with Orlando during my sophomore year in college. Warm, exotic and full of Latin charm, our relationship was hot and intense, but as is the case with most first relationships, it eventually came to a petering halt and by the end of college, I’d moved on to my next great love: Brooklyn. Brooklyn was everything Orlando wasn’t: Neurotic and cold yet creative and quirky, Brooklyn buzzed with a wild, frenetic energy that was both exciting and infectious.

What these two former loves have in common is that they are both cities; Cities that like boyfriends, had a lot of potential but for one reason or another, were never a good fit.

This is an allegory that author Richard Florida would probably understand. He’s the researcher and Stanford economics professor who penned the book Who’s Your City? How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

City Slickers vs Southern Belles

In Who’s Your City, Richard Florida details a study by psychologists Sam Gosling and Jason Rentfrow, entitled “The Geography of Personality“. The study was conducted using a 44-question online personality test, which the researchers used to gather personality data on 600,000 participants across the United States.

By asking participants to rank to what degree they agreed with various statements (“Religion is an important part of my life”, for example, or “I spend a lot of time visiting friends”) Gosling and Rentfrow were able to measure what psychologists call the “Big Five” facets of personality: neuroticism, extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness. Gosling and Rentfrow then used the participants’ zip-codes to pinpoint their precise locations, thus creating a “Personality map” of the United States.

personality map of the us
Richard Florida’s Personality Map of the US

Source: The Official Who’s Your City? Website.

As they’d hypothesized, the results showed that certain personality types tend to cluster in particular regions of the country; coastal cities like the Bay Area or Boston were hotbeds for the intellectually curious while cities along the Bible Belt attracted a largely conventional and industrious crowd. As it turned out, there was some truth to the stereotype that New Yorkers are harried and stressed and Southerners are friendly and rule-abiding.

The following is a description of four personality types as well as a list of their corresponding city “matches”. Read on to find out if you and your favorite city are a match made in heaven or if you’d be happier, well, moving on.

The Cynic

neurotic new yorker
Neurotic New Yorker. Photo by Vic Deleon.


Cities: The New York metropolitan area, the Midwest (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit), parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, Tulsa and Oklahoma City

Famous Cynic personality type: Woody Allen. Though extremely creative and artistic, quintessential New Yorker Woody Allen has also been described as socially-withdrawn and aloof.

New York City and Midwestern cities like Detroit or Pittsburgh are ideal for those who like their life served with a heaping dose of drama and unpredictability.

A large number of people in these areas scored high on the neuroticism scale, which means they’re prone to anxiety, depression and hostility. Neurotic personality types are also characterized as being emotionally unstable, impulsive and aloof.

But it ain’t all bad. The same personality trait that makes New Yorkers moody, also allows them to experience life intensely and have a depth of emotion that when channeled properly, can be used to create brilliant works of art.

The Party-Animal


party animal
The Party Animal. Photo by Haags Uitburo.

Cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Wichita, Kansas City, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Worth, San Antonio

Famous Party-Animal personality type: Robin Williams. Funny-man and actor Robin Williams was born and raised in Chicago and as a passionate and talkative extrovert, is naturally drawn to the spotlight.

The Party-Animal personality type is extremely extroverted and loves to socialize. Though people in this region scored low in the neurotic trait (and thus aren’t moody and angst-ridden like their Cynic neighbors) they also scored low in positive qualities like conscientiousness and openness to new experiences. Furthermore, these Midwesterners scored very low in agreeableness, which means that though they may love team sports and group activities, they’re not the nicest or friendliest in the bunch (that distinction goes to North Dakota, whom the study found to be the ‘friendliest’ state in the nation). Thus, these cities are not well-suited for more agreeable types who crave close friends and community involvement.

The Model Citizen


model citizen
The Model Citizen

Cities: Atlanta, Phoenix, Richmond, Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Memphis, Nashville, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Indianapolis

Famous Model-Citizen personality type: Sarah Palin. Former US vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin grew up in Alaska and is a warm and energetic rule-follower who values traditions, security and close family ties.

The agreeable and the conscientious personality traits tend to go hand-in-hand and most of these personality types cluster in the southeast, particularly in the Atlanta, Memphis and Mississippi areas. ‘Model Citizen’ personalities are hardworking, compassionate and trusting and nurture close bonds within their family and community. While they score very low on the neurotic scale, they aren’t very open to new experiences either and thus, are less adventuresome and less likely to move far from home.

These cities are great for people with conventional views and values. If you aren’t the type to challenge authority (like more “open” personality types) and prefer a few close friends over a wide circle of acquaintances (like the party-animal personality) then the South may be the region for you.

The Artist

the artist
The Artist. Photo by Frank Kovalchek.

Cities: The top three cities for creative-types are New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. But cities in the Northeast, as well as Miami, Austin, Portland, Oregon and Seattle scored high in the openness trait as well. Others: Boston, Buffalo, Washington DC, Baltimore, Louisville, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego.

Famous Artist Personality type: James Franco. James Franco, a native Californian from the Bay Area, is an actor, artist, filmmaker and writer who holds two MFAs and is currently working towards a PhD in English from Yale.

The cities that line the northeast and west coasts of the United States tend to attract people who score high in the openness trait. Curious, artistic and creative, these “artist” personality types crave excitement and variety and are naturally drawn to cities with large bohemian and immigrant populations. Because the study’s results found a frequent overlap between cities that scored high in the openness trait and those that scored high in neuroticism (like New York or Las Vegas, for instance) these cities are not ideal for people who place a high value on tradition or long-lasting friendships. People in cities like San Francisco or Seattle aren’t as neighborly as they are in cities that scored higher in the agreeable trait, like Minneapolis or Salt Lake.

Birds of a Feather:  Why Where You Live Matters

What does all of this mean? According to Richard Florida, it means not having to settle for second-best. We no longer have to remain in ill-matched marriages to the cities of our birth, because for the first time in history, we have the means and opportunity to live almost anywhere – and be happier because of it. Case in point: One of the unexpected results of Gosling and Rentfrow’s study involved city personality matches and happiness levels. The study found that people who live in cities similar in personality to them are happier than people who don’t; an independent nonconformist will find it difficult to be in a relationship with rule-oriented North Carolina, for example, as will a religious family-man in free-thinking Oregon.

Thus, if you haven’t found that special somewhere, keep looking. The city of your dreams may be no more than a Google Maps-click away.

Main photo Image by Marc Levin.
Model Citizen photo by Philippe Leroyer.

Do you agree with the results of the study? Does your chosen city match your personality type?

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