Living in Switzerland For Members

The Zurich paradox: Why is world's most expensive city also the best to live in?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
The Zurich paradox: Why is world's most expensive city also the best to live in?
The best and worst: the duality of Zurich. Photo: Christel/Pixabay

Can residents of Switzerland’s largest city really be happy, considering its higher-than-elsewhere cost of living?


In the latest quality of life report from the European Commission, Zurich has beat, fair and square, 82 cities across the EU, European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – that is, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – the United Kingdom, the Western Balkans, and Turkey.

The survey found that majority of Zurich residents are happy with their jobs, public transport, healthcare services, air quality, and their financial situation.

The city also offers the best quality of life for older people and the LGBTQ+ community in all of Europe.

While Zurich is not exactly a stranger to such accolades, having won similar titles before, it has not consistently scored high marks in all surveys.

On the contrary, for several years in a row, including in 2023, Zurich was ranked the world’s most expensive city in the Economist magazine’s Cost of Living index. Once the 2024 figures are released later in the year, it is a safe bet that Zurich will be at, or near, the top again.

This brings up a question of how a city (or a country) can be "best" and "worst" at the same time.

Not a major issue

Every second year, Zurich municipal authorities conduct a survey among the local population about what they like and dislike about the life in their city.

In the last such survey, published in December 2023, city residents mentioned such downsides as shortage of affordable housing and traffic congestion but, interestingly, the notoriously high cost of living was not cited as a huge concern. 

One reason may be high wages. 

Based on data from the Federal Statistical Office, a median monthly wage in the city is 8,000 francs – about 1,300 francs more than the already high median Swiss salary.

You may argue that the high salaries don’t necessarily compensate for high prices.

However, a new study shows that the purchasing power in Zurich is quite high.
With 57,771 francs of disposable income per capita, Zurich’s purchasing power is among the highest in the country, exceeding the national average of 50,000 francs (which, in itself, is higher than elsewhere).

READ ALSO: Where in Switzerland does your money go further? 

Of course, this is the case of the 50 percent of the population that earn upwards of the median wage; for the other half, the quality of life probably isn’t as high.

Assuming, then, that the surveys are carried out mostly among residents with decent salaries, their assessments of life in Zurich will be mostly positive.


The link between wealth and quality of life

Consider this domino effect:

The more people earn and the more income tax they pay (although Zurich’s rate is not Switzerland’s highest), the more money there will be in public coffers to spend on infrastructure, public transport, health services, school system, recreational activities, parks and green spaces, and all the other "perks" that contribute to the city’s quality-of-life ranking.

In other words, good life comes at a price, even though – in Zurich’s case – it is a high one.


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