South Carolina Vs. North Carolina - Which is the better State of the Carolinas

Photos of North Carolina and South Carolina, mountains, cities

North Carolina Vs. South Carolina - Which Is The Better State Of The Carolinas

The first 50 years of Carolina’s story was one filled with unrest — from corrupt officials, political conflict, incompetent proprietors, unpaid taxes, and even friction with Natives. However, colonists still found a way to build a new society that followed the coast, filling it with towns, farms, and a functioning local government. Originally called the Carolina colony, it was claimed in the 16th century by the Spanish, with the French also occupying some parts. 

The two regions officially split in the 17th century, when the government decided it was too hard to manage the huge colony that Carolina had become. To solve their dilemma, a governor was put in place in 1961 to oversee all of Carolina, along with a deputy governor who looked over the northern part of the colony. Soon after in 1712, the colony of Carolina officially split into South and North Carolina. 

In 1729, however, King George took over the Northern half of the state, effectively making both Carolinas royal colonies, which put an end to all the problems. During this time, both regions continued to develop their own economies, local governments, and culture, making each one unique in its own right. In this comprehensive guide, we break down everything you need to know to make an informed decision when looking for the best place to live out of these two great states. Read on to learn more about North and South Carolina, and see for yourself which is the better state. 

Cost of Living

One of the first things to consider when comparing these two states is the cost of living. To find out where you’ll most likely spend more and save more, we’ve created a side-by-side comparison of the two. While North Carolina has the bigger population, this usually translates to a higher cost of living, since there are more people in that area. This means more competition and more demand which translates to higher costs. 

South Carolina

North Carolina 

Population 

5.08 million

10.4 million

Median Household Income

$52,306

$53,855

Median Property Value 

$170,000

$180,000

Homeownership Rate

69.3%

65.1%

Overall Cost of Living 

88.5%

90.6%

Groceries 

95.8%

96.5%

Transportation 

73.7%

83.9%

Housing 

73.6%

81%

Health Care 

102.3%

107.5%

Utilities 

103%

99.2%

Rent 

Below national average

Below national average

While North Carolina’s overall cost of living is still lower compared to the national average of 100%, it’s still slightly above South Carolina’s cost of living. Furthermore, people living in NC pay below the country’s average for housing, groceries, utilities, and transportation. However, health costs are above average, just like SC. 

But as you can see in the table above, South Carolina has the edge when it comes to a more affordable area to live in. In almost every category, South Carolina has proven to be a much friendlier place for those wanting a fresh start, or for starting families. As a result, South Carolina wins this round, hands down. 

Population

One of the key differences we can see between these two states is their population. As of 2019, North Carolina’s numbers were around double their southern neighbors; 10,488,084 to 5,148,714. It’s also worth noting that both states have an increasing number of members with an age of 65 years and above, with South Carolina currently on 18.2% while North Carolina closely follows at 16.7%. Because of their lower costs and the promise of warmer weather, both states attract many retirees from all over the country. Because of this, native Carolinians have shown concern that their states are facing changes due to the sheer number of newcomers. 

Education

Both states have great colleges, and their education systems work similarly. For instance, North Carolina and South Carolina’s public school systems operate through districts controlled by locally elected superintendents and school boards. However, because North Carolina has a bigger population, they have more students compared to South Carolina. Here is a table that demonstrates the difference in numbers when it comes to their students (taken from a 2013 study). 

South Carolina 

North Carolina

Number of Students

735,998

1,518,465

Number of Schools 

1,239

2,557

Number of School Districts 

103

244

Graduation Rate

77.6% 

82.5%

Number of Teachers in Public Schools

48,072

98,590

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:15

1:15

Amount Spent on Each Student 

$9,514

$8,390

When it comes to their colleges, both states also have great choices to offer students who want a higher education. North Carolina is home to some of the best places for education, such as Duke University and the University of North Carolina. Furthermore, students have plenty of other options such as small private liberal arts colleges, midsize colleges, and large research universities. South Carolina, on the other hand, offers Clemson University and the University of South Carolina — two of the biggest universities in the state. This state is also home to many small liberal arts colleges as well as a publicly funded military college, The Citadel. 

Mountains

If you’re a big fan of the outdoors and want to spend some time trekking the mountains, there’s no better place to do it than North Carolina. Its collection of mountains aren’t just some of the oldest in the world, but they are also some of the most adventure-filled, thanks to the great activities on offer. From making art to ziplining, you can be sure that any one of these mountains can take you to a higher level: 

  • Highlands
  • Asheville
  • Bryson City
  • Boone and Blowing Rock
  • Brevard and Hendersonville

South Carolina offers a diverse landscape where you can go from an ocean view to views from heaven in just a matter of hours. In this state, you can find towering, mountainous terrain by the northwest, but no matter where you go, you’ll be able to scream your name by the mountain tops to hear echoes from far-off lands. Here are just a few of the places you can visit to test your fear of heights: 

  • Sassafras Mountain
  • Glassy Mountain
  • Caesars Head
  • Table Rock State Park

While both states offer gorgeous mountain views and offer plenty of high peaks and summits to be explored, North Carolina’s mountains are simply breathtaking. The views that can be found in this state just can’t be beaten, so if you fancy a climb up to where the air is fresh and pristine, you can’t go wrong with North Carolina’s mountains. 

Lakefront Property

Maybe you’re looking into owning a lakefront property that will whisk you away from the hustle and bustle of the city life you’ve always wanted to get away from. There’s no right or wrong choice here — both North and South Carolina are known for their beautiful, fresh-water lakes just teeming with wildlife. Whether you want to get out there to soak up the sun or if you want to catch the fish of your life, here are some of the best lakes to consider in both states for your lakefront property. 

North Carolina 

  • Lake Norman
  • Jordan Lake
  • High Rock Lake
  • Lake James
  • Lake Glenville

South Carolina 

  • Lake Marion
  • Lake Jocassee
  • Lake Murray
  • Lake Strom Thurmond
  • Richard B. Russell Lake

Both states win in this category since North Carolina and South Carolina have gorgeous lakes to choose from. No matter what kind of activities you wish to do once you’ve found the home of your dreams, you’ll be happy to find a place to call your sanctuary.  

Big City Life

Another big difference between these two states is how one offers big city life, while the other provides a small-town feel. Of course, a huge contributing factor to this is the gap in population, which was discussed above. Furthermore, North Carolina is the larger state geographically, allowing for more development, more growth, and more people. 

But what does this mean for people who are deciding between the two? If you’re looking for a busier state with more things to do and places to see, then North Carolina is your bet. But if you’re looking for somewhere quieter and are hoping to get more in touch with nature, then South Carolina may be the ideal place for you. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find a peaceful place from the big city — North Carolina also offers areas for relaxation whenever you need it. Unfortunately, if you are looking for the thrill of living in a big city, South Carolina can’t compare to North Carolina, so it is the clear winner here. 

Beaches

During the summer months, you’ll need to be in an area close enough to the beaches to help you beat the heat. While both choices have great beaches on offer, they’re not as easily accessible in North Carolina as they are in South Carolina, which can be a bit of a nuisance. Here are a few picturesque destinations in both states that you’ll want to be close to — no matter what season it is. 

North Carolina 

  • Emerald Isle
  • Bald Head Island
  • Cape Hatteras
  • Corolla/Currituck Beach
  • Ocracoke Island

South Carolina 

Because South Carolina has more towns and cities strategically placed near coastal regions, it is the better choice for those who want to enjoy their days in the sun and water. It’s also the perfect place to enjoy all your favorite water activities, with only one exception.  

Surfing

If surfing is an important part of your life, there’s no question that you need to relocate to North Carolina right now. With some of the best waves on the entire east coast, its waters aren’t just favored by the locals, but also get visitors from all over the country. One such area is Wrightsville Beach, which has lured surfers to its shoreline for years. Even people who don’t normally surf won’t be disappointed with this area’s other activities. 

With a wide range of outdoor experiences, watersports, and excursions, you can be sure that your stay here is unforgettable. Whether you want to try deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, or paddleboarding, there’s an activity here for everyone. Unfortunately, waves in South Carolina can’t compare to North Carolina’s, and as such, surfers will often travel north just to catch the biggest wave of their life. Because of this, North Carolina is the obvious winner. 

Climate

This category is subjective; there is no good or bad climate, and it all depends on what we prefer. There are, however, slight differences between North Carolina’s weather and South Carolina’s weather. While SC has warmer temperatures, NC has a more seasonal climate. Again, it doesn’t vary by that much, and temperatures in both states won’t climb higher than the high 80s or go lower than the low 30s on average. In the end, you will be perfectly happy either way; you just need to figure out your preferences to decide on which state will be more beneficial to you. 

Real Estate Taxes

Maybe you’re wondering about real estate taxes before investing in either state. Well, you’ll be happy to know that there are no estate or inheritance taxes for both South and North Carolina. In 2013, North Carolina repealed its estate tax, so you’re free to choose from either one of these states. However, there is a huge difference when it comes to property tax. South Carolina residents enjoy one of the lowest property taxes and are ranked 45th in the country, while North Carolina came in at 31st. 

An average of just .56% of their home’s market value is paid by residents of South Carolina, while North Carolina residents pay an average of .85%. Furthermore, SC homeowners over 65 years of age can typically get a deduction of $50,000 on their property taxes. Meanwhile, North Carolina offers a property tax homestead exemption of $25,000, provided that the person over 65 meets certain criteria. In this category, South Carolina is the winner. 

Sports

Sports fans can rejoice in both states since they offer plenty of action-packed sports teams and games. However, there is a distinction over which teams perform and dominate in certain sports. For instance, North Carolina is the better state when it comes to college basketball with top schools being the driving force behind many championships. Some of the most popular schools for basketball here are: 

  • Duke University
  • North Carolina State University 
  • Wake Forest University 

When it comes to college football, however, South Carolina has the upper hand, due to the success of the Clemson Tigers. As such, it has been ranked among some of the most elite college football programs in the country. When it comes to professional sports teams, though, North Carolina has far more compared to South Carolina, with some of their most successful teams being: 

  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Charlotte Knights

Southern Charm & Hospitality

When it comes to southern charm and hospitality, both states have various old and historical cities — such as Georgetown and Charleston — along with interesting, mid-sized cities. Furthermore, both states have college towns like Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina and Clemson in South Carolina. Both states also offer many towns that can top any list for the best retirement towns; you can take your pick from:

North Carolina 

  • Asheville 
  • Brevard
  • Murphy
  • New Bern

South Carolina 

While both states offer great cities and towns for retirees or those who wish to live in a historical area where it’s more rustic and hospitable, North Carolina has more cities to choose from.  

State Taxes and Taxes for Retirees

One of the biggest considerations for retirees is taxes, and South Carolina would’ve won in this comparison since it has lower taxes in most categories. However, in 2014, North Carolina made it much harder to compare taxes between these two states, and there isn’t much of a  difference between the two. As of 2019, South Carolina had the 40th highest tax in the country, while North Carolina followed in 32nd place. 

While some various considerations and factors go into individual taxes before you get the real picture, there are a few things to consider that applies to most people: 

  • Neither state taxes Social Security.
  • South Carolina has a higher tax rate, along with slightly higher exemptions. 
  • Sales tax in North Carolina is 1.25% lower compared to South Carolina. However, local taxes can reduce the difference.
  • South Carolina’s taxation of retirement income is more favorable.
  • North Carolina has a higher property tax as a percentage of home value.
  • Neither state has an estate or inheritance tax.

Job Markets

It should come as no surprise that while both states have many opportunities, North Carolina is the place to be if you’re looking for more jobs that are professional-level. Both South and North Carolina have large industries in food and restaurants, elementary and secondary schooling, as well as construction. While both states have a lower median household income compared to the national average, they are also experiencing great economical growth. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the job market in both states along with the national average, using Charlotte and Charleston as examples. 

Job Market

Charlotte, NC

Charleston, SC

United States

Current Unemployment

4.9%

4.0%

6.0%

Future Job Growth

45.2%

35.9%

33.5%

Recent Job Growth 

-5.6%

-3.7%

-6.2%

3 Year Job Growth

-0.7%

1.0%

-3.6%

5 Year Job Growth

6.2%

3.3%

-0.7%

10 Year Job Growth

25.9%

17.6%

6.3%

From the projected values that the examples have set above, both states are on their way to economic and employment growth. However, if you’re looking for more job variations and a dynamic place to work, North Carolina is the best choice for you. 

Conclusion

Depending on your preferences, it could be difficult to choose between the two, especially since they share similar climates and topography. Overall, both states would be an excellent place to relocate to since both offer something different from the other. 

However, from what we’ve seen, we can say that North Carolina has a few more advantageous benefits such as larger cities to choose from, taller mountains to explore, and plenty of jobs to keep you moving even through the pandemic. Furthermore, NC’s college towns such as those located in the Research Triangle are becoming more and more progressive. Finally, North Carolina has strived to become more of a tax-friendly state, and as such, it has attracted plenty of retirees and many others from all over the country. 

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