Christopher Helm planned for graduate school in a unique way.
Rather than just examine universities and their faculty, he did an
in depth study of the most important variable, the atmosphere in
which he would be living. He of course had some very stringent
criteria that had to be met for him to choose an area.
Chris' lifestyle was anything but average. He would be
graduating from San Diego State University with a BA in Asian
Studies, and his graduate work would be towards a PhD in Eastern
Religious Studies. Chris was also a Zen (Buddhist) student who
lived a spiritual life that required a minimal level of public
acceptance and understanding for him to be happy. These two
variables posed peculiar problems. The area that he would choose
would have to be open minded and liberal enough to accept different
cultures. But how do you measure liberality and open mindedness?
The main variable for judging open mindedness was education.
Chris determined that the only way the average American would be
exposed to Eastern ways of thought was if they were college
educated. Another determinant in judging a populations liberality
was in labor force characteristics, a statistic that was indirectly
linked to education level. A population with a high level of
professionals, i.e., white collar workers, would correspondingly
have a high level of education. Labor force characteristics played
a dual role in Chris' study, however. After leaving graduate
school, Chris was considering finding a professional level job
within the local community.
Another important thing for Chris was cost of living. As a
student, Chris needed to live in an area with a low cost of living.
In judging the cost of living, Chris turned to housing costs in
determining costs of living. Having spent his time in expensive
Southern California, Chris knew that rent took up a gigantic
proportion of his income. An area with a low monthly rent would be
well suited to his low income level. Just as he had done with
labor force characteristics, Chris also planned for the future when
surveying housing costs. He compared the average cost of a house,
availability of homes for sale, and even broke down the value of
all the homes in his area. This was all done with an eye to the
future. After graduating from graduate school, Chris wanted to be
able to afford a home without the long wait that he would have
encountered in his native California.
After careful evaluation of all the universities that had both
an acceptable graduate program and an acceptable teacher for his
spiritual practice, Chris came up with two universities. These
were the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the
University of Syracuse, in New York. Each of these universities
had outstanding academic programs as well as a respectable Zen
Roshi (Master) in the area. They appeared to be equal in every
The next step was to check the 1980 SMSA census data for each
area. Chris first realized that the data would probably be very
different for each city, due to their size. Chapel Hill was a
small city, with only 32,421 people, while Syracuse was a large
city with over 170 thousand people. See graph A.
The first census table that was checked was educational
attainment (table P-9). This table indicated the level of
educational attainment of the citizens of each city. The tables
showed that only 15% of the citizens of Syracuse had a college
education, while almost three-fourths (74.2%) of Chapel Hill's
population were college educated. See graph B. This was a huge
difference. In fact, Chapel Hill had more citizens with a college
education than Syracuse had with a high school education. This was
a strong determinant that the population of Syracuse would be
accepting to different ideas and ways of life.
Next Chris checked the labor force characteristics (table P-
10) for each area. Again, Chapel Hill came out on top. Almost 60%
of Chapel Hill's population held professional jobs, while half
that, 30% of Syracuse's population held professional jobs. See
graph C. Not only did this show that most people were
professionals in Chapel Hill, but it was a good determiner of the
kinds of jobs that would be available for Chris when he graduated.
Chris also checked the unemployment level in each city. Syracuse
had almost four times as many unemployed as Chapel Hill. See graph
D. Chapel Hill was starting to look good to Chris.
Housing costs were the next variables for the comparison.
Median rent for Chapel Hill was $261 per month, while Syracuse's
median rent was only $158 per month. Rent in Chapel Hill was over
40% higher than Syracuse! See graph E. Since Chris' income would
be the same in each location, due to financial aid and his personal
savings, this made a large difference in how he could live his
life. In the long run, Chapel hill would end up costing him over
$20,000 in additional rent over four years.
Chris then checked the median asking price for a house on the
market in both Chapel Hill and Syracuse. If Chris wanted to buy a
home in Chapel Hill, he would have to spend $115,000, compared to
the asking price of $23,000 in Syracuse. Also, almost twice as
many homes are vacant in Syracuse than Chapel Hill. See graph F.
Obviously, with all the data collected so far, Syracuse is a low
income area with a low standard of living. However, this is an
advantage to someone like Chris who enters the situation with money
earned in a high income area (Southern California) and a future
high income profession awaiting him.
For Chris the data was clear but the decision was still
difficult. He could go to Syracuse, a low cost area where the
people are not so open-minded to his lifestyle, or he could go to
Chapel Hill, a more affluent, high priced area, where the people
are highly educated professionals with a high standard of living.
Chapel Hill could cost him $20,000, while Syracuse could cost him
his happiness. But can you put a price on happiness?
The Price of Happiness
Gary L. Ray
Economics and Population
San Diego State University
October 24, 1990