New York City and Boston are two major urban centers in the northeastern United States. Despite differences in population demographics and population size, the cost of living between these cities is very similar as of 2014.

It is difficult to establish broad conclusions regarding the cost of living in New York City because it extends across five different counties (Richmond, Kings, Bronx, New York and Queens), each with varying characteristics and economic conditions. Similarly, the greater Boston metropolitan area includes a population that is nearly eight times larger than Boston city proper.

Cost of Living: City of Boston vs. New York City

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Living Wage Calculator estimates the approximate income necessary for the average family to live in a given city, state or region. According to MIT, a living wage is sufficient to meet a family's basic needs, which are further qualified as "food, clothing, housing and medical care."

MIT data suggests that cost of living in the city of Boston is nearly identical to the cost of living in New York City. This is true for single-person households ($26,521 in New York City vs. $26,316 in Boston) up to couples with three dependent children ($54,320 in New York City vs. $53,832 in Boston). 

However, when total metropolitan areas are taken into consideration, greater Boston residents end up spending an average of 8.85% less than their New York City counterparts.

Cost of Living: Metropolitan Boston vs. Metropolitan New York City

According to Numbeo, the purchasing power in Boston, Mass. is 14.63% higher than the purchasing power in New York, N.Y. This is largely attributable to rent prices, which are 29.26% lower in Boston. Square footage is more difficult to come by in New York City, which has a population that is 16 times larger than the city of Boston and still more than twice as large as greater Boston.

Measuring Cost of Living

When economists or statisticians measure the cost of living in a given area, they are estimating the amount of money necessary to purchase enough goods and services to maintain a certain standard of living. To see it from a different angle, cost of living is a measurement of how much food, shelter, clothing, health care and education can be bought with one unit of money.

Difficulty with Cost of Living Estimates

Cost of living averages are entirely quantitative, not qualitative; the nature of the goods or services provided do not come into consideration. It might be that one particular consumer good is 25% more expensive in New York City than in Boston, but you might not be able to see that the consumer good in New York City lasts 50% longer. Cost of living would report higher costs in New York City, yet in the long run, it would be just the opposite.

Regardless of the methodological shortcomings of cost of living measurements, the numbers suggest that there are not large price differences between New York City and Boston.