New York City vs. Boston: An Overview

New York City and Boston are two major urban centers in northeastern United States. Despite differences in population demographics and population size, the cost of living between these cities is not as similar in 2019 as it might have been in 2015.

New York City

Widely considered the economic and business capital of the world, New York City has a price tag to match. According to Numbeo, a 1 bedroom apartment in the city center will set you back $3,129.61 per month. If you have a family, a 3 bedroom in the center amounts to an astounding $6,525.82.

The cost of living (widely considered rent minus salary) makes New York much more expensive. Housing is around 40% pricier in New York, yet the average monthly net salary is only 1.54% higher.

Boston

A few hours north of New York lies Boston, and although it is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, the figures are slightly less alarming. A 1 bedroom in the city center costs around $2,420.26 per month, while a 3 bedroom comes to $4,116.53, which is almost 42% lower than in New York. As mentioned above, salaries remain consistent between the two, which is why many consider Boston a "cheaper" place to live.

Key Takeaways

  • New York City is the 8th most expensive city to live in in the world. Boston is the 20th, yet both cities share nearly identical salaries.
  • Many New York City residents rationalize the higher cost of living with the availability of higher-paying work and a higher quality of life.
  • According to MIT's cost of living calculator, both cities had nearly identical salary requirements to achieve the same quality of life in 2019.

Special Considerations

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.

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 close to identical to the cost of living in New York City. This is true for single-person households ($33,209 in New York City vs. $30,577 in Boston) up to couples with one working and with one dependent child ($57,363 in New York City vs. $54,294 in Boston). 

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.

For 2019, Numbeo ranked New York City with the 8th highest cost of living worldwide, with Boston coming in at 20th.

Additional Considerations

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, healthcare, and education can be bought with one unit of money.

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.