One could say today’s American woman is a working woman. In 2016, 57% of women participated in the workforce, up from 43.3% in 1970. Additionally, 42% of mothers were the primary breadwinners for their families, meaning they brought in at least half of their family’s earnings, according to a 2015 report from the Center for American Progress.
Although more women are in the workforce and supporting their families, women’s earnings have historically lagged against that of men. In 1987, the average working woman earned about 70% of a man’s income. In 2016, the gap narrowed, with women earning 82% of the average man’s earnings. But broad research doesn’t always paint the clearest picture. For example, more detailed wage gap analyses have found the wage gap is much worse among minority women, while the gap is slightly better for today’s younger women.
Despite these advances, women in the aggregate earn less money, cover more child care costs, hold fewer leadership positions and suffer more in earnings and work penalties related to maternity and parenthood than men do. Factors like median earnings and women in leadership contribute to a woman’s ability to progress in her earnings and career throughout her life.
With these factors in mind, MagnifyMoney analyzed and ranked the largest 50 U.S. metros to determine where the average working woman might have the best shot at equal pay and advancement in the workplace.
How we chose the best cities for working women
To see where working women seem to fare better, we took the 50 biggest metros in America and graded them based on the following factors:
- The rate of women who are unemployed.
- The rate of businesses with employees that are owned, either equally or entirely, by women.
- The rate of people in management occupations who are women.
- The percentage gap between median earnings for women and men (i.e. the wage gap).
- The rate of women between the ages of 18 and 64 who have employer-based health insurance.
- The percentage of median income required to pay for day care, because access to child care is essential for the ability to work outside of the home.
- The percentage of the state’s legislature (or the District Council, in the case of Washington, D.C.) who are women.
- The protections offered by states to pregnant women and working parents, such as state-funded paid parental leave, protection for taking off time to attend school events and mandated accommodations for pregnant women.
Washington, D.C., is the best metro for working women.
The nation’s capital earned the top spot in our ranking, with a final score of 72.8. It has a relatively narrow wage gap compared with the nation as a whole (15.4% vs. 20.4%), one-third of the district’s legislators are women and it ranked highest out of all 50 metros for the rate of women (43.6%) who hold management occupations in the workforce.
Detroit is the worst metro for working women.
Detroit scored a 33.9 on our index, indicating the metro isn’t the best place for a working woman’s earnings and career advancement. At 25.4%, Detroit ranks in 46th place in the rate of businesses owned by women and 46th place in the gender wage gap rankings. Detroit women earn at least 25% less than men on the dollar. However, the metro’s 6% unemployment rate for women is among the highest in our survey.
L.A. has the lowest wage gap. Los Angeles has the lowest wage gap of all 50 metros, at 10.1%. That’s compared to an average of 19.0% across all 50 metros. It’s followed by Tampa, Fla. (10.6%); Miami (12.7%); Denver (12.8%); and San Antonio (13.7%).
Seattle has the highest share of women-owned businesses, at 39.8%. It was followed behind by Phoenix (38.4%); Portland, Ore. (37.3%); Miami (36.2%) and Riverside, Calif. (35.4%). Across all 50 metros we studied, we found an average of just 31.2% of businesses are owned by women.
More women in management occupations may bode well for gender wage gaps.
Generally speaking, we found a metro’s earnings gap was narrower in metros with a relatively high number of women in management occupations. A good example of this phenomenon can be seen in our number one ranked city, Washington, D.C. We found 43.6% of managers in Washington are women, ranking it No. 1 in that category. And it scored the 10th lowest wage gap out of the 50 metros analyzed. Likewise, Sacramento (ranked No. 3 overall) had the 3rd highest proportion of women who are in management occupations, and the 7th lowest earnings gap, we found. Denver bucks the trend, however. It was among the worst ranking cities for women in management occupations (39 out of 50), but had the 4th smallest gender wage gap.
More than half of the states had no parental or pregnancy protections in place. We scored features like whether or not there was a law in place, the length of coverage the law allowed, if the law was limited by the size of the employer and if women had to jump through hoops like bring a doctor’s note to gain access to pregnancy protections. In addition to the four states that currently offer workers paid family leave, both Washington state and the District of Columbia enacted paid parental leave coverage in 2017, which will go into effect in 2020. Washington, D.C., will provide eight weeks of parental coverage and Washington state will offer 12, with up to an additional six weeks for a serious maternal health condition. New York state will also increase the length of their paid leave from the current eight weeks now, to 10 weeks in 2019, and 12 weeks in 2021.
California has the best parental and pregnancy protections. After evaluating all 50 largest metro areas, none of them scored a perfect 100, but California scored the highest at 57.
The 10 best U.S. metros for working women
(All metros were given a score out of 100)
1 — Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital earned the top spot in the Best Cities for Working Women ranking, with a final score of 72.8. The capital ranks first out of all 50 cities when it comes to the percentage of managers who are women, with 43.6% of its management occupations filled by women.
What the Federal City does well
Overall, women earn about 15.4% less than men on the dollar, making the Federal City the 10th best in our wage gap rankings.
Health care for women in D.C. is comparatively better than in the majority of other major U.S. cities, too. Nearly seven in 10 women have employer-based health insurance — placing it 5th in that category overall — and the metro’s pregnancy and parental workplace protections earned it a score of 30. Overall, D.C. ranks 10th in pregnancy and parental workplace protections.
The district ranked 3rd in earnings for child care when compared with the other metro areas, as it takes one-fifth of a woman’s median earnings to cover day care costs.
D.C. ranks 24th overall in percentage of women who are unemployed. The Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey reports a 4.9% unemployment rate for women in the District of Columbia, significantly lower than the national 2016 rate for all U.S. women, 6.7%.
Where D.C. could use some improvement
Those strong characteristics make D.C. the best city overall for the working woman, but the city has a shortfall. D.C. lands in the middle of the rankings in women-owned businesses at No. 24. Women own about 32.4% of businesses in the nation’s capital.
2 — Minneapolis
With an overall score of 66.4, the larger of the twin cities, Minneapolis, is the second-best metro area in the nation for working women.
What Minneapolis does well
The city’s health care climate for women and its unemployment rate helped pushed it to the top of our rankings. It also benefited from the fact that the state of Minnesota has a high rate of women legislators. Nearly one-third (32.8%) of state legislators are women.
Good news for the working woman who considers having children one day: Minneapolis placed 11th overall based on state legislation in place for parental and pregnancy protection. Falling just behind D.C., it earned a parental and pregnancy workplace protection score of 29. If a woman has a day care-aged child, it would take about 23.1% of her median earnings to pay for day care in Minneapolis (No. 29).
The Mill City also has the lowest unemployment figures for women. With 2.9% of women unemployed, Minneapolis ties with Buffalo, N.Y., for lowest unemployment among all cities in the analysis.
Where Minneapolis could use some improvement
The City of Lakes generally ranks in the middle for women in business leadership, as 31.5% of women own businesses (No. 28) and 40.8% of its managers are women (No. 17). Possibly a reflection of fewer women in leadership, Minneapolis has a 19.7% gender wage gap, placing it 31st out of the 50 metro areas in that particular category.
3 — Sacramento, Calif.
California currently has the best coverage laws for mothers and pregnant women, boosting the Sacramento, Calif., metro area up on our list to No. 3 overall.
What Sacramento does well
The city’s parental and pregnancy workplace protections earned it a score of 57 according to MagnifyMoney’s index, the best of all cities in the data set. No state had a program that scored a perfect 100. The city falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to day care costs. Women in Sacramento would need to spend about 22.2% of their median earnings to put children in day care so they can get to work.
The City of Trees ranked third in the percentage of managers who are women (43.4%) and 11th overall in the percentage of women-owned businesses. Generally on track with people in management occupations, the median earnings gender wage gap in Sacramento is 14.6%.
The unemployment rate for women in Sacramento is 5.7%, according to 2016 five-year ACS estimates. That’s an entire point lower than the nation’s 6.7% unemployment rate for women.
Where Sacramento could use some improvement
Sacramento lands in the middle of the index — No. 24 — in its rate of women legislators, 22.5% of whom are women.
The city landed on the lower end of the spectrum for the percentage of women with employer-provided health insurance. About 61.4% of women in Sacramento obtain health insurance through their workplace (No. 34), which is slightly less than the group average of 63.1%.
4 — Denver
What Denver does well
The city boasts the 4th lowest gender wage gap at 12.8%. That’s significantly lower than not just the national average (20.4%) but across the 50 metros we analyzed (19%).
Nearly 40% of state legislators in Colorado are women, helping boost Denver to No. 2 in that category. Denver ranks 10th for women-owned businesses, as about 35% of businesses are owned by women.
The unemployment rate for women in Denver is a low 3.6%, according to 2016 five-year ACS estimates, placing it third in the category’s rankings. The city lands in the center of the category’s rankings (24th out of 50) for the percentage of women with employer-based health insurance. Just under two-thirds (64.7%) of women in Denver have health insurance through an employer.
Denver isn’t a bad city for a working woman with children, compared with other metro areas in our data set. The city ranks 12th on our scale for parental and pregnancy protections.
Where Denver could use some improvement
On the flip side, 39% of managers in Denver are women, pushing it to 39th place in that category. Ironically, since wage gaps tend to narrow with a rise in women in management occupations, Denver has one of the lowest wage gaps. It ranks 37th when it comes to how much of a woman’s median earnings is required to afford day care at 24.4%.
5 — San Francisco, Calif.
What San Fran does well
As noted earlier when we discussed Sacramento, California is the best state for parental and pregnancy workplace protections. The state scored a 57 in that category — the highest among all metros in our analysis — out of a possible 100.
San Francisco benefited from that high score, ranking 12th in the rate of the city’s businesses owned by women (34.3%) and 8th in the percentage of managers who are women (41.8%).
San Francisco also has a relatively low unemployment rate for women compared with the other metros in the analysis, at 4.4%, landing it 12th place in that category.
Where San Fran could use improvement
Once children are of day care age, it would take about 25.1% of a woman’s median salary to afford day care in the metro area. That’s considerably higher than the 50-metro average of 23%.
San Francisco may be among the top 10 when it comes to having women in management occupations, but that doesn’t translate into a narrower median earnings gender gap. The wage gap is in the middle of our pack in the analysis, landing it 21st out of 50 metro areas. Women in the area earn about 18.7% less than men, worse than the national wage gap of 20.4%.
6 — Seattle
What the Emerald City does well
Seattle is home the highest percentage of businesses owned by women of all the cities in our data set. Close to 40% of businesses in Seattle are equally or fully owned by women. Additionally, only 4.2% of women in Seattle are unemployed, placing it 8th among all metros in the category’s rankings.
The metro also benefits from Washington state’s comparatively high rate of women legislators — 37.4% — which is good enough to place it third overall in the category.
What could use improvement
The city ranks 19th for women in management with 40.7% of women in management occupations, and has one of the highest gender wage gaps in our analysis (ranked 44th) at 23.6%.
About 67% of women in Seattle get health insurance through an employer (15th overall). The city scored 18 in parental and pregnancy workplace protection, placing it in 16th place in the category overall. It takes nearly a quarter (24.8%) of women’s median earnings to pay for day care in Seattle, 38th in the category’s rankings.
7 — Baltimore
What Baltimore does well
The city scored strongly in its rate of women with employer-based health insurance, the rate of women in management positions and benefits from Maryland’s relatively high rate of female state legislators.
Most working women in Baltimore — about 68.2% — are on an employer-based health insurance plan. The comparatively high percentage of women on employer-based health plans places Baltimore 8th overall in the analysis of U.S. metros.
More than 42% of managers in Baltimore are women, placing the city in 7th place overall among the cities in our analysis.
The gender wage gap in Baltimore is slightly worse than the national average but slightly better than the average gap found among the 50 metros we analyzed. Compared with the national wage gap of about 20.4%, women in Baltimore earn 18.8% less than men in the metro area. Among all 50 metros, the wage gap was 19%.
Child care is slightly more affordable. It would take about 21% of a woman’s median earnings to pay for day care in the Baltimore metro area, compared with a 50-metro average of 23%. About 32% of Maryland’s state legislators are women, helping boost the Baltimore metro area to 11th overall in that category.
What needs improvement in Charm City
However, Baltimore ranked 19th among other metros in the quality of its parental and pregnancy workplace laws on the books. The city scored a 12 in the category compared with an average of 15 across all 50 metros.
About 30.8% of businesses in Baltimore are owned by women, lower than the 50-metro average of 31.2%.
8 — Providence, R.I.
What Providence does well
A good portion of management occupations in Providence are filled by women. The city is ranked fifth among the other metro areas in our analysis, with 42.8% of managers who are women. The state of Rhode Island has a good percentage of women in state legislature, which helped boost Providence’s score. It ranks 12th in the category, with about 31% of state legislators who are women.
Providence also ranks in the top 10 for its legal protections for expectant parents and those with day care-aged children. The metro was ranked 9th out of 50 metros with a score of 40 in parental and pregnancy workplace protections.
What could use improvement in Providence
Day care doesn’t come cheap. Providence has the 10th highest day care cost among metros. It costs a little more than a quarter of a woman’s median earnings to afford day care in Providence.
The metro falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to the rate of businesses owned by women. It ranked 29th place out of 50 with 30.8%, slightly lower than the metro average of 31.2%.
Providence’s gender wage gap also needs work. The metro is ranked 33rd when compared with other areas in our analysis as women earn 19.9% less than their male counterparts.
9 — St. Louis
What St. Louis does well
Almost a third of Missouri’s state lawmakers are women, pushing St. Louis to 8th place in this category, and 35.2% of businesses are owned, either fully or equally, by women, which is the 6th highest among the 50 metros. The unemployment rate for women in 2016 was also relatively low at 4.4% (12th lowest), which may have something to do with the high rate of employer-based insurance for women. St. Louis has the 10th highest rate of women with workplace insurance at about 68%.
St. Louis also does pretty well relative to other cities in day care costs, requiring 21.7% of the median earnings for women to pay the average costs. St. Louis is in middle of the pack when it comes to the number of women in management occupations (40.4%), ranking 23rd of the cities we reviewed.
Where St. Louis could use some improvements
Unfortunately, that good showing of women in leadership positions doesn’t translate to more equitable earnings for women. Median income for women was 22.5% lower than for men in 2016, and only six other metros in the data set has a larger wage gap. The state of Missouri scored a zero on our parental and pregnancy workplace protection index.
10 — Kansas City, Mo.
What Kansas City does well
The city’s ranking is largely helped by Missouri’s high rate of women in state legislature. In Missouri, nearly one in three members — 32.8% — of the state’s legislators are women.
About one-third (33.2%) of businesses in the metro area are owned by women, which is slightly better than other metros analyzed, which had an average of 31.2%.
The unemployment rate for women in Kansas City is lower compared with other metro areas in the data set. With an unemployment rate of 4.3%, the city ranks 10th in the rate of women who are unemployed.
Kansas City also has a decent rate of managers who are women. The metro area ranks 17th out of 50 for the percentage of managers who are women. About 40.8% of managers in Kansas City are women, right on par with a 40.2% average for all 50 metros.
Where Kansas City could use improvements
Kansas City is one of many cities that scored zero in parental and pregnancy workplace protections on the books in our analysis, thanks to a complete lack of state laws that provide these specific kinds of coverage.
Like in Seattle, ownership and workplace leadership do not seem to translate into higher wages for women in Kansas City, Mo.
The city ranks 43rd with a median earnings gender gap of 21.7%, higher than both the 50-metro average of 19% and national average of 20.4%.
The worst metros for working women
Salt Lake City
Each of the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) was ranked against each other, on a scale 100, on eight factors relevant to women’s ability to achieve financial and professional success in the workplace.
Each MSAs scaled result was derived from the following formula for each, individual factor: 1 x 100, and rounded to one decimal point).
The results for each factor were then added together, and the sum was divided by eight (rounded to one decimal point), for the highest possible score of 100 and the lowest possible score of 0. The actual highest score was 72.8 and the lowest 33.9.
The eight factors are:
- Employment. The percent of women who are unemployed, as reported in the American Community Survey 2016 (five-year estimate) from the U.S. Census Bureau (“2016 ACS”).
- Health care. The percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 (inclusive) who have employer-based health insurance, as reported by 2016 ACS.
- Business ownership. Percent of businesses with employees that are owned, either wholly or equally, by women, derived from the 2015 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Management positions. Percent of people in management occupations who are women, derived from 2016 ACS.
- Wage gap. Gap, as a percent, between median earnings of men and women, derived from 2016 ACS.
- Child care. The average cost of in-center child care, as a percent of median earnings for women. Day care costs were reported in “The Care Index” from New America and Care.com, and median earnings were reported by 2016 ACS.
- Representation. The percent of elected state (or district) legislators who are women, as reported by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, Council of District of Columbia, and the Tennessee General Assembly legislator web pages. Since we’re working on the MSA level, which can cover multiple municipalities and counties, we opted to review women’s representation at the state level.
- Workplace protections. State pregnancy and parental workplace protections were scored on the following bases. The highest possible score was 100 points and the lowest was zero. The highest actual score was 57 and the lowest actual score was zero.
- Paid leave: the number of paid parental leave weeks covered by the state, divided by a maximum of 12 weeks, up to 50 points.
- Pregnancy accommodation protections: each MSA was granted six points, for a possible total of 30 points, for the following:
- the existence of such a law, 2) if the law covers both public and private employees,
- if the covers all employers, regardless of size,
- if the law doesn’t allow employers to require medical documentation for accommodations (three points were awarded if employers could not ask for documentation for some, but not all accommodations, such as bathroom and water breaks),
- if the law doesn’t allow for an “undue hardship” exemption for employers (three points were awarded if the undue hardship exemption could not be applied to certain accommodations, such as bathroom and water breaks).
- Allowable time off to attend school events: the number of hours spent at a child’s school, per year, for which a parent cannot be fired, divided by a maximum of 40 hours, up to 20 points.
For the sake of clarity, each metro name is the first city and state listed in the MSA title, which we understand to be the most populous component of each MSA. The Care Index (child care costs) refers Norfolk, Va., which we associate with the Virginia Beach MSA.
- “Employment Status,” 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau (https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_S2301&prodType=table , last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- “Occupation by Sex for the Civilian Employed Population 16 Years and Over,” 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau (https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_S2401&prodType=table, last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- “Earnings in the Past 12 Months (in 2016 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars),” 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau (https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_1YR_S2001&prodType=table, last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- “Employer-Based Health Insurance by Sex and Age Universe: Civilian noninstitutionalized population,” 2011-2016 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau (https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_C27004&prodType=table , last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- “The Care Index,” care.com and New America (https://www.care.com/care-index or https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/care-report/explore-care-index/, last access Feb. 27, 2018)
- State fact sheets, Center for American Women in Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University (http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/state-by-state, last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- Council member web pages, Council of District of Columbia, (http://dccouncil.us/council, last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- Legislator web pages, Tennessee General Assembly (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/, last accessed Feb. 27, 2018)
- “State by State Fact Sheets: Child Care Assistance Policies 2016,” National Women’s Law Center (https://nwlc.org/resources/state-by-state-fact-sheets-child-care-assistance-policies-2016/, last accessed Feb. 28, 2018)
- “State Paid Family Leave Insurance Laws,” National Partnership for Women & Families, July 2017 (http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/paid-leave/state-paid-family-leave-laws.pdf, last accessed Feb. 28, 2018)
- “State Family and Medical Leave Laws,” National Conference of State Legislatures, July 19, 2016 (http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-family-and-medical-leave-laws.aspx, last accessed Feb. 28, 2018)
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