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Families save more leaving SF than almost anywhere in U.S.

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And our suburbs are more expensive than the national average too

A small child looking through binoculars toward the East Bay. Peter Dean

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors meets this week to discuss what to do about a January Planning Department study accounting for why so few families with children remain in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, real estate site Zillow and childcare outfit suggest one sizable motivation: $12,560/year. That’s the difference in cost both sites estimate it takes to raise a family in San Francisco instead of smaller nearby cities.

The dual study takes the average of housing costs, childcare expenses, and property taxes in major cities and compares them to the compiled averages of the relevant suburbs.

Naturally, most urban centers cost more than the suburbs—hence the development of suburbs in the first place. But the trend is not consistent, as Curbed notes:

“In half of the 30 U.S. metros studied, the costs of suburban housing and childcare actually outpaced those of city life, albeit to a milder degree.”

Luz Rosa

Whereas housing and childcare costs combined will run more than $84,800/year in San Francisco, relocating drives the total down to just over $72,200.

Note that this is an enormous gap. For comparison’s sake, in San Jose the difference is only $1,628. A move to the suburbs in LA means a difference of only $407.

(Oakland data is folded into San Francisco for this study, as part of the larger San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward census area.)

Housing costs came by way of Zillow’s own Cost of Living Report, while calculated childcare costs based on profiles of companies on its own site. These samples may or may not reflect the data from third parties.

For the purposes of this study, a Zillow spokesperson told Curbed SF that they surveyed residents and asked them to classify which ZIP areas they considered urban and suburban. This was the consensus:

One potentially surprising takeaway is that, even though the price of being a San Francisco family is depressingly high (perhaps accounting for why only 18 percent of SF households have children), we rank only fifth for costs in the study.

In New York City, the difference between the urban and suburban is an unbelievable $71,000/year. Chicago, Dallas, and Washington DC parents have it worse than San Francisco families as well.

And yet, the study says the cost of living here is higher than in most of those cities.

The depressing explanation is simply that nearby Bay Area cities are also pretty expensive compared to suburbs in other parts of the country, so there’s not as much savings to be had with a move.


A man and a boy sitting and looking at the Golden Gate Bridge.
At least we’ve still got the bridges.
Photo by Aleksei Potov/Shutterstock