Last month, personal-finance website WalletHub released a ranking of the “Most Sinful Cities in America.” Pittsburgh originally landed at No. 17, but a shift in the data dropped it to 30th. Sorry, sinners. We’ll just have to try harder next time.
WalletHub, founded in 2013, provides credit scores and reports, financial tips and reviews of various services like insurance providers. The site also publishes articles and statistical reports specializing in ranking American cities and states for being the best or worst place for a particular activity, habit or type of person. The rankings range from the benign, like Most Charitable States, to the more abrasive, like Fattest States in America. (Pennsylvania ranks 24th and 25th, respectively.)
While the site posts new articles frequently, Most Sinful Cities in America caught the eye of City Paper because it seems judgmental, and even a little rude, for a personal-finance website to rate a city’s morals. “The holiday season is upon us, and it is known for encouraging overindulgence. As a consequence, overeating and overspending can lead to unfortunate economic consequences,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez tells CP via email. She adds that the list’s goal was to determine a city’s “vices and weaknesses.”
The introduction to the ranking, which includes 180 U.S cities, asserts that every city harbors bad behavior, “From beer-loving Milwaukee to hedonistic New Orleans.” It’s safe to say that most people don’t consider loving beer to be sinful, but WalletHub seems to operate on an outdated, almost puritanical idea of sin.
WalletHub based the list on the classical seven deadly sins and came up with: anger and hate, jealousy, excesses and vices, avarice, lust, vanity and laziness. But Gonzalez notes that “this study does not [aim] to be associated with any religious or biblical interpretation.” Part of the data used to determine a city’s level of vanity, for example, is the number of tanning salons per capita. (Excessively pale and sunless Pittsburgh comes in at No. 4.) Sure, the radiation is bad for your skin. And yeah, tanning is now forever associated with the Orange Man in the White House. But is personal grooming a sin?
The score and ranking for each city was determined by categorizing and assigning point values to various statistics under each of the sins. Most Active Tinder Users and Teen Birth Rate both fall under lust. Excesses and vices include Share of Obese Adults, Overdose Deaths and Coffee Drinkers. Jealousy is determined by thefts per capita. Like all reductive listicles, it doesn’t leave much room for discussion. Equating theft to jealousy implies that all burglary is for petty satisfaction. Teen birth rates are blamed on uncontrollable lust, not lack of sex education or resources.
Although it ranked relatively low in most categories, Pittsburgh was originally listed as the 17th Most Sinful City because of the number of hate groups (1.3 per 100,000 residents), drug-overdose deaths (21.18 deaths per 100,000 residents) and potential cheaters (156 Ashley Madison users per 1,000 residents). After the article was published, WalletHub added a note saying it had removed the Potential Cheaters category after it was contacted by Ashley Madison, a “discreet dating” website for married people looking to have an affair. The data, WalletHub explains, was unauthorized, and possibly part of a massive 2015 data hack. A representative from Ashley Madison told CP that the company offered to provide official data, but WalletHub declined.
On Dec. 5, Ashley Madison released its own study of cities in the U.S with the fastest-growing number of users, in order to reveal which cities “have been having a nice time being naughty.” With Los Angeles, New York and Washington unsurprisingly taking the top spots, Pittsburgh ranks 18th, with a 16 percent increase in sign-ups in 2017 (maybe this is another problem we can blame on techie migrants).
If it seems confusing for a website that provides free credit scores to also create listicles, remember that it’s a genius marketing tool (we’re writing about them right now). Each time WalletHub publishes a new ranking, it emails it to publications of the involved cities, who then write a quick article citing WalletHub. CP’s Alex Gordon notes that he received emails from WalletHub almost once a day for most of November. Among them were States with the Best Elder Abuse Protection, Cities with the Biggest Holiday Budgets, and Best and Worst Cities for Veterans, which includes a link to the Best Military Credit Cards.
It all feels in line with the internet’s obsession with rankings and listicles. There is no real use in any of the information; no one is going to pick up and move across the country because of a finance website’s ranking of the best and worst cities for singles. But to be ranked as anything feels noteworthy, especially in Pittsburgh, a city that seems to really love being on lists.