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If you're on the path toward becoming a psychologist, you have probably wondered about which states are best for working professionals. What kind of salaries do they make? Do they have high job satisfaction?
Many statistics list the best states for psychologists based on where professionals earn the most money. Unsurprisingly, these locations tend to overlap with the country's most densely populated areas, such as New York City and Los Angeles.
However, more money doesn't necessarily equal highest purchasing power — nor does it indicate an area's livability or job satisfaction in the field. So, where can psychologists earn decent money, maintain a reasonable cost of living, and achieve a high quality of life? Our top five states might surprise you.
Methodology and Ranking
We determined the best states for psychologists based on two factors: adjusted salary and happiness score.
Adjusted salary is calculated by modifying the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics's mean annual wages of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists from each state. This reflects the cost of living in that state based on data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
This adjusts the average salaries from states with a higher cost of living, such as California and New York, down to reflect the greater cost of housing, food, and transportation in these densely populated areas. Salaries from less expensive states, such as Mississippi and Kansas, rank higher to reflect the lower living costs. (In middle-of-the-road states like Colorado and Idaho, there is hardly any discrepancy between the average salary and adjusted salary.)
The second factor we considered, happiness level, is based on data from WalletHub. WalletHub explores professionals' emotional and physical well-being, work conditions, and community and environment to demonstrate the happiest states in the U.S on a scale of 0-100, ranking them from highest to lowest.
We combined these two factors to determine the states with the highest adjusted salaries among psychologists and the best happiness scores in the corresponding state.
New Jersey comes in first on our "Best States for Psychologists" list. The state ranks highest on average salary at $139,110. When adjusting for cost of living, the state moves down only two rankings for an average salary of $117,590.
If income is a top priority, the Garden State is certainly a great choice to work as a psychologist. It's also a great place to live, coming in ninth on WalletHub's ranking of the happiest states. New Jersey is known for safety, good school districts, nature and beaches, diversity, and accessible amenities.
New Jersey also ranks first in lowest share of adult depression and suicide rate, and has the third lowest divorce rate in the nation.
The state is small but densely populated. All New Jersey counties lie within metropolitan areas, so building clientele as a psychologist is doable throughout the state.
Missouri ranks fifth for highest average salary at $119,030, and first when adjusting for cost of living at $130,520. As a psychologist in Missouri, you can enjoy a very comfortable income-to-expense ratio.
Missouri ranks 29th — slightly below average — for its happiness score.
Breaking it down, Missouri's well-being rating, which accounts for both the physical and mental wellness of its population, scores lower than average. Its work environment score, which takes into account commute time, job security, and the state's economic growth rate, scored slightly above average, however. Missouri also ranked well on community and environment, which considers factors like weather, safety, and divorce rate.
Missouri offers both urban and rural living, affordable housing, a healthy job market, and a unique blend of midwestern and southern culture. The state also demonstrates the highest percentage of mental health provider shortage areas in the country according to 2021 data, resulting in a great need for psychologists.
North Dakota ranks seventh for highest average salary at $109,920, and fifth when adjusting for cost of living at $112,390. It also ranks fifth for happiness score.
North Dakota's high happiness ranking might surprise you, considering its rural setting and cold climate. However, the state also has plentiful economic opportunities, a low cost of living, and offers a peaceful lifestyle.
It also comes in first among all states for lowest long-term unemployment rate and has the second lowest divorce rate in the country.
Like many other rural states, North Dakota needs mental health professionals. Only five of the state's 53 counties are not considered mental health professional shortage areas. An increasing number of mental health professionals now use teletherapy to provide services to clients throughout the state.
Utah ranks 20th when it comes to highest average salary at $92,730, and 24th when adjusting for cost of living at $91,360, average figures compared to all states.
However, Utah ranks first on the happiness scale. Breaking it down, the state comes in ninth for well-being, first in work environment, and first in community and environment. The state is known for its friendly neighbors, strong economy, and access to nature activities. It also scored in the top five for safest states, states with the lowest divorce rates, states with the highest volunteer rates, and states with the fewest hours worked.
Utah demonstrates a growing need for mental health professionals, especially those that specialize in youth services. The state is in the bottom three in the country for children's access to care.
Minnesota ranks 22nd in terms of highest average salary at $92,120, similar to its adjusted cost-of-living salary of $92,490 — slightly above average compared to all other states.
While Minnesota psychologists may not make the top salaries in the country, they experience a higher quality of life. The state ranks second on the happiest states scale, coming in second for well-being, fourth for work environment, and ninth for community and environment. While its cold winters can be considered a drawback, residents enjoy the state's low cost of living, strong sense of community, and rural scenery.
Minnesota also ranks first for highest adequate sleep rate, second for highest volunteer rate, fifth for lowest divorce rate, and third in terms of safety.
There is no shortage of work for psychologists in Minnesota. The state struggles with a shortage of mental health professionals, especially in rural areas. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 4 out of 5 counties in Minnesota qualified as mental health professional shortage areas, which continues to grow as the pandemic continues.
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The Best States for Psychologists by Salary
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