Boston – How Does it Compare to “Typical” America? 3

Settled in 1630 and incorporated in 1822, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the US. It is home to many major league sports teams including the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins and the New England Patriots. It is also home to more than 100 colleges and universities, which bring in more than 250,000 students from around the world.

What are people like in Boston? How do they compare to the “average” American? How does each neighborhood differ?

According to the 2010 Census, there are 4,391,344 people living in the Boston, MA Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA). What do we know about them? How do they vary?

As a whole, the Boston CBSA population is 48.5% male and 51.5% female. 79% of the population identifies themselves as White only. 8.9% of the population identifies themselves as Hispanic. The median income in 2010 was $74,931, which is over 35% higher than the US median income of $54,442.

People in Boston are “average” Americans in some ways, but also index high in many parts of the city. This means they spend more than average on many products and services and a higher percentage of consumers participate in an activity the average US household.

Here are some key statistics for selected variables for the overall Boston CBSA:

Activity Index Average Spend per HH per Year
Watch baseball



Watch American Idol



Own a DVR



Coffee at Home



Health Insurance



All neighborhoods in Boston are not the same. Just like the rest of the US, there is diversity in the area. Retailers, marketers, distributors, and others who do business with direct consumers need to know where their customers live – or where the opportunity may lie. Understanding what activities consumers are engaging in or what they are purchasing is critical to knowing where customers and opportunities lie.

Baseball is one of the key all-American sports. As noted above, Boston is home to the Boston Red Sox, which plays out of America’s oldest ballpark – Fenway Park. The question is – with this rich history in baseball – does that then translate to people watching baseball on TV?

Baseball TV Viewing Index by Zip Code


Much of Boston is relatively average when it comes to watching baseball on TV, though there are many areas that are above average.  The zip code that indexes the highest when it comes to watching baseball is 01731.  This zip code belongs to Hanscom AFB.  Its index is 138 meaning that someone in a household in this zip code is 1.38 times more likely than the average American household to watch baseball.  The dominant tapestry segment of this zip code is Military Proximity.  Residents of Military Proximity are young, married, and beginning parenthood.  More than three-fourths of the labor force in this segment are on active duty or have civilian jobs on military bases.  More about tapestry segments and segmentation can be found at

American Idol is one of the most popular television shows with a wide range in its viewing audience from age to demographics.  While it isn’t as popular as it once was, millions are still tuning in to watch and vote every week.  On April 25, 2012, 15.66 million households tuned in to view the show, according to Nielsen (prior seasons have had 20-30 million viewers per show).  That’s more than 13% of all households in the US.  Residents of Boston are typically American when it comes to American Idol with an index of 100.

American Idol Viewing Index by Zip Code


Interestingly, there is little variation for American Idol viewing among neighborhoods in Boston. Most neighborhoods fall within the “average” index range of 75-125. The zip code with the highest index is 01731 just like in baseball viewing. The zip code with the lowest index for watching American Idol was 02110 with an index of 53. This means that a resident in that zip code is ½ as likely to watch American Idol as the average American. The dominant tapestry segment in that neighborhood is Laptops and Lattes. This segment is very affluent and young. They enjoy life in the big city.

DVRs have changed the way many consumers watch television. Enabling consumers to shift their television viewing from appointment viewing to on-demand has greatly affected how media companies market and distribute their product. I live in Los Angeles where media is one of the main industries and almost everyone is connected to the “industry,” so there is a skew in the adoption of DVRs – many think that everyone has one. It’s not quite true – it’s somewhere around 50% of US households. While this isn’t something to ignore, knowing that half the country still watches much of their TV live is important and can affect what type of content is developed and how it is distributed. How does Boston stack up?

Overall, Boston has a higher adoption of DVRs than the average American. Its index is 117. Not all areas of Boston are the same though.

DVR Ownership Index by Zip Code

While overall the city is average in terms of DVR ownership, there are distinct differences in areas around the city. The zip codes with an index of 150 (considered well above average as they are 1.5 times more likely than the average American household to have a DVR) or above all have high median incomes – over $80,000. All of these zip codes are located in or very close to the actual city of Boston versus areas around the outskirts of the CBSA. The zip codes with the highest index in the CBSA are 02030 and 01741. Their indices are 195. Both zip codes have a dominant tapestry group of Top Rung. With an index of 56, the zip code 01841 has the lowest index in the Boston CBSA. Households in this zip code are approximately half as likely to have aDVR than the average American household. The dominant tapestry segment is International Marketplace, which is a very diverse segment.

Knowing what consumers spend their money on and how much is key to understanding their preferences and what they may or may not buy in the future. This information can help retailers, marketers, and distributors decide on what products to offer and where to offer them.

Coffee is a key part of many people’s day. While many go to their favorite coffeehouse to consume their favorite caffeinated beverage – or they get it at work, many also brew it at home and consume it there. The average American household spends about $64.20 on coffee each year. The average household in the Boston CBSA spends over 25 % more – $85.58. This higher than average spending on coffee could be due to factors such as higher cost of living as well as the cold Boston winters.

Average HH Annual Coffee Spend for Home Consumption by Zip Code


The zip codes around the center of Boston spend much more than the average American on coffee.    All of the zip codes that spend $100 per year on coffee to drink at home have median incomes of $80,000 or more.  The 5 zip codes with the highest average household spending on coffee were 02493, 02030, 02481, 01770, and 02468.  Each of these zip codes had an average of $158.10 spent per household on coffee.  The dominant tapestry segment for all of these zip codes is Top Rung.  Residents of Top Rung neighborhoods are mature, married, highly educated, and wealthy.

Health insurance is a concern of most Americans and has been on the agenda of politicians for many years.  It is one of the foremost topics for the 2012 presidential election.  The average American household pays about $1,865 annually for it.  Many factors go into how much one pays including family size, age, health condition, and much more.  It can also vary based on where you live – from the state, city, and even neighborhood.  The average household in Boston pays $2,272.75 which is about 20% more than the average American household.

Average HH Health Insurance Spend by Zip Code

While it’s difficult to say why one area has higher health insurance than another as there is so many complex factors, we can determine that overall in Boston, the range that a household pays is “typical”. That said, there are areas that pay significantly more than average. The top five are all have a dominant tapestry segment of Top Rung. They are 02493, 02030, 02481, 01770, and 02468. Their indices are 233 or higher meaning they pay, on average, 2.33 times more than the average American household. Each of these zip codes have median incomes of $169,297 or higher. These higher incomes may result in the households purchasing more comprehensive health insurance. Information about health insurance can help health industry professionals determine what services or clinics may be needed in an area.

What does this all mean in terms of Boston?

Well, in these criteria, its indices are slightly higher than the typical American. The higher spending on coffee and health insurance may be due to the higher incomes as well as the higher cost of living. I am sure there are other criteria where it is much different due to interests and available of products. It’s important for companies to understand each individual market – and even neighborhood – as there are distinct differences among them.

This is the part of a series about various local markets around the country.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at or to learn more about Esri in general, go to

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3 thoughts on “Boston – How Does it Compare to “Typical” America?

    • Pam Allison Post author

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m actually doing this blog posts on behalf of Esri. Eventually we will have the hosted on Esri’s website, but for now I post them on my blog. We are also working expanding to interactive maps (and get them to so that will be coming soon. What area of Esri do you work in?

  • David Healy

    One of the key factors in state health insurance costs is what are mandated coverages- mental health, physical therapy, acupuncture are some that are required in certain states but not others. Nice analysis in the use of data.