Special Report

Best (and Worst) Paying Cities for Women

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently made history as the first female nominated for president of the United States. Her nomination brought some long-standing issues of gender equality to the political foreground. While progress has been made over the years, there is still a real and significant gender pay gap in the American workplace. The typical female worker earns less than 80% of the earnings of the typical male worker.

That gap is much worse in those industries that have historically excluded women. It is also much worse in certain parts of the country that, for a number of reasons, are still far further behind on the path to gender pay equality. Some places, such as Cape Coral, Florida have a smaller pay gap, and women there earn 93.6 cents for every dollar area men earn. In Provo-Orem, Utah women earn a median income of $33,504 a year, or just 64.3% of the male median wage. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 major metropolitan areas with the largest pay gap and the 10 metros with the smallest gap.

A review of the data shows that even in areas where the pay gap is relatively smaller, this is not necessarily because they are better represented in higher-paying fields where they earn similar wages to men. Rather, in many of the metropolitan areas with the smallest pay gaps, men are either paid less — but still more than women — in traditionally high-paying jobs, or women are less represented in traditionally low-paying industries, notably the food services sector.

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In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Julie Anderson, research associate at the Institute For Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), explained that this appears to be the case on a national level as well. “In a lot of places, men’s earnings dropped over time, and women’s earnings did not drop as much. So that closes the wage gap, but not really in the positive way we want.”

Another explanation for the lower gender pay gaps in certain metropolitan areas appears to be that both genders are paid less. It seems that often, when incomes are higher in an area, men tend to benefit significantly more. In places such as Cape Coral and Deltona, Florida and Fresno, California, both genders earn less than the median wage, and the total gender pay gap is less than $5,000.

On the other hand, in San Jose, California, where both women and men earn more than the typical pay for their genders nationwide, men earn nearly $20,000 more than women on average.

One common indicator of potential earnings is education, with higher education levels often leading to higher incomes. However, education does not appear to have made a difference in the gender pay gap. Women are more likely to have graduated from both high school and college, yet they have significantly less representation in the higher-paying industries for which a college education typically paves the way.

In many of the metro areas with the largest gender pay gaps, women occupy less than one in three management positions, less than one in five computer and mathematics jobs, and less than one in 10 architecture and engineering jobs.

Some argue that despite their education, women are simply not choosing to enter these fields. Anderson explained that there are a number of reasons women end up in certain lower-paying occupations.

For example, she noted that women are far more likely to assume responsibility for child-rearing in their family and that limits their choices. “People make pretty rational choices. If you’re in a family and a care-giving need arises, it’s sort of a self-perpetuating cycle that the lower earner is the one who steps out of the workplace, and as we know that is more likely to be a woman than a man. And then it is very hard to recover from that time out of the labor force.”

She added that women who continue to work are more likely to choose careers as educators because such work lines up with the children’s school schedules, or in health care occupations because those careers are more likely to yield shift work.

Even in those occupations where women tend to dominate employment, they are paid traditionally less than their male counterparts or less than similarly skilled positions in other industries.

Anderson added that whether the positions are traditionally female or male dominated, and even when controlling for a number of factors, the pay gap still exists. “There are plenty of studies that compare people within the same occupation, and you control for all kinds of factors — years of education, number of hours work, years at the company — there is always still some amount that is unexplained.”

To identify the worst and best paying metropolitan statistical areas for women, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed women’s median earnings as a percent of men’s median earnings in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Median earnings by metro area and by sex came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). A high percentage reflects a small gender pay gap, while a low percentage reflects a large pay discrepancy. We also considered median earnings for specific sectors, sub-sectors, and occupations, as well as median household income. We also reviewed data on the percentage of women and men in specific sectors. Educational attainment rates by gender also came from the American Community Survey.

These are the best (and worst) paying cities for women.

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