BUSINESS
05/22/2018 12:31 EDT | Updated 05/22/2018 14:16 EDT

Canadians Are Happier In Small Towns Than Cities: Study

Places with lower density and lower house prices have higher levels of happiness.

A neighbourhood of high-rise condo buildings in downtown Vancouver. New research suggests Canadians who live in more dense, more expensive neighbourhoods tend to be less happy than those in rural areas.
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A neighbourhood of high-rise condo buildings in downtown Vancouver. New research suggests Canadians who live in more dense, more expensive neighbourhoods tend to be less happy than those in rural areas.

It's the Canadian way these days: Land a reasonably well-paying job in a major city, move there, and contend with a lifetime of high living costs and stressful commutes.

But a new study suggests we may not be doing ourselves any favours living like this. Researchers at McGill University and the University of British Columbia's Vancouver School of Economics carried out a detailed analysis of happiness surveys across Canada, and came to a clear conclusion: People in rural areas are happier than urban dwellers.

They took responses from 400,000 Canadians in two major surveys, and arranged them according to 1,215 identifiable communities across the country. They found that the population density among the least happy fifth of communities was eight times higher than the density of the happiest fifth of communities.

In other words, "life is significantly less happy in urban areas," the authors wrote.

Watch: Canada's best cities for job-hunters

Given the rapid densification Canada's largest cities are undergoing, those results should give us pause for thought.

There are other things the happiest communities have in common, including shorter commute times, more affordable housing costs, a lower share of foreign-born population, and a larger share of the population that identifies as religious.

But that doesn't mean the key to happiness is moving to the country, staying away from immigrants and attending church.

The researchers note that "many of the variables are correlated with one another" — for example, population density, foreign-born populations and high housing costs are all just realities associated with cities, so "it is premature and misleading to think in causal terms."

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And the data showing that religious people and locally-born people tend to be happier squares with other research showing that strong social circles are an important element of happiness.

And yet, there might be something to this notion of moving out of the city. As house prices have soared in Toronto and Vancouver, some priced-out buyers have started looking further afield, to the more affordable cottage country beyond the suburbs.

A new study from realtor Re/Max, released last week, found that in the cottage country of southern Ontario, "many owners of recreational properties actually rent their principal residences in Toronto, where they live most of the year."

Behold the new class of homeowner: the cottage-owning city renter. These people are reversing the age-old model of owning a home in the city and renting a vacation property in the country. And they're doing so for economic reasons.

But this doesn't really count as moving to the country; after all, cottage-owning city renters still rely on the income generated by city jobs to afford their lifestyle.

Do they need to, though? Among the more interesting findings in the happiness study is what doesn't correlate with happiness: Income levels, the unemployment rate and education. They're about the same in the happiest communities as they are in the least happy.

So maybe that high-paying job in downtown Toronto isn't actually getting you any closer to happiness. And these days, with housing costs being where they are, the alternatives may well be worth considering.

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