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Best Places for Working Women

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Washington, D.C., sits atop the best places for working women for the fourth time in a row.

MagnifyMoney researchers examined eight factors across the 50 largest U.S. metros relevant to women achieving financial and professional success. While some metros like D.C. maintained their positions, others like Riverside, Calif., have dropped.

One of the key aspects examined is the gender pay gap, which disadvantages women. But that’s not the only way women can fall behind, as other societal pressures can impact their ability to succeed.

“Working women often bear the brunt of the burden of caregiving in their families, whether that means children or elderly parents,” says Ismat Mangla, MagnifyMoney executive editor. “This means that on top of their day job responsibilities, they are often working a ‘second shift’ by being the primary caregiver at home. This often leads to burnout or the inability to do either job well.”

Here’s where women workers fare best (and worst).

Key findings

  • Washington, D.C., stakes its claim as the best place for working women for the fourth time in a row. 44.5% of people in management positions in D.C. are women, the highest of any metro reviewed. In addition, 53.8% of D.C. legislators are women — second-highest across the metros — and 24% of businesses are wholly woman-owned.
  • Denver jumps from fourth in 2020 — the last version of this analysis — to second on the strength of improved protections and benefits for new and expecting parents. Starting in 2024, Colorado families will be provided 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child. San Francisco completes the top three overall.
  • A new metro — Riverside, Calif. — is the worst place for working women. While California has some of the strongest parental and pregnancy protections and benefits in the nation, Riverside’s unemployment rate for women and its proportion of women’s earnings needed to pay for day care are both the highest of the metros reviewed. In the last edition, Charlotte, N.C., was the worst place for working women.
  • Detroit and Birmingham, Ala., join Riverside at the bottom — in the same rankings as the last analysis. Key drivers for Detroit’s poor placement include its large wage gap between men and women and the lack of parental and pregnancy protection laws in Michigan. Birmingham performed especially poorly with its percentages of women-owned businesses and women as state legislators.

Best places for working women: Washington, D.C., Denver and San Francisco

As was the case with the prior versions, Washington, D.C., stands out as the best place for working women.

Washington, D.C.

D.C. has the highest percentage of women in management positions (44.5%) across the 50 metros studied. That’s more than three percentage points higher than the 50-metro average of 41.0%.

And the future outlook here is positive, as 69.4% of D.C. women between ages 18 and 24 have some college under their belt, which could help bolster their representation in management positions. That compares to 55.3% across the U.S. Plus, notably, 53.8% of the metro’s district legislators are women — far above the 50-metro average of 32.2%.

All that said, the metro isn’t at the top across each category examined, with life circumstances influencing how supportive the metro can be. For example, D.C. requires the second-highest percentage of median women’s earnings needed to pay for day care (38.4%) — more than 10 percentage points higher than the 50-metro average of 27.6%.

Top 10 places for working women: Highlights
RankMetroFinal score% of women who are unemployed% of businesses owned by womenMedian earnings gap between men and women (%)% of state legislators who are womenParental and pregnancy workplace state protection score
1Washington, D.C.75.34.6%24.0%16.5%53.8%75
2Denver71.93.3%24.4%17.3%44.0%80
3San Francisco68.94.3%22.5%17.9%31.7%75
4Portland, Ore.67.14.2%21.3%19.5%45.6%71
5Baltimore62.74.7%22.3%16.9%43.6%17
6Seattle61.94.1%21.8%23.4%42.2%67
7Providence, R.I.61.04.3%19.2%17.5%44.2%43
8Boston60.84.0%19.2%18.7%31.5%88
9Minneapolis60.62.9%20.3%18.0%35.8%29
10Las Vegas59.46.1%22.4%12.9%58.7%23
Source: MagnifyMoney analysis. See full rankings for data on additional metrics.

Denver

Denver comes in second, performing well across nearly every metric examined. The metro is bolstered by its high parental and pregnancy workplace state protection score — jumping from 39 in the 2020 version to 80 (second-highest among the 50 metros) this year.

That jump is a result of Colorado’s new paid leave policy, which was enacted in 2020 and will be available to residents in 2024. It provides 12 weeks of paid leave for bonding with a new child, whether through birth, adoption or fostering. This comes almost a decade after initial efforts to get a policy passed in the state.

Like D.C., however, a large percentage of women’s earnings are required to pay for day care (31.6%) — four percentage points higher than the 50-metro average of 27.6%.

San Francisco

San Francisco rounds out the top three, finishing in the same position as in 2020.

Like Denver, it tends to score well across the board. In fact, of the top three, it has the lowest percentage of median women’s earnings needed to pay for day care (26.0%). The California metro is also in the top 10 among the percentage of women who are managers (42.8%).

However, the metro has a significantly smaller female presence among state legislators (31.7%) — below the 50-metro average of 32.2%. It also has the largest wage gap between working women and men among the top three metros, at 17.9%. So while women in the tech hub may have more opportunities to thrive, there are still barriers to be dismantled.

Worst places for working women: Riverside, Calif., Detroit and Birmingham, Ala.

Riverside, Calif., is the worst place for working women, down from 10th-worst in the 2020 study. It replaces Charlotte, N.C., which — interestingly — is now the 10th-worst place for working women.

Riverside, Calif.

There are two standout data points for Riverside that cement its place at the bottom.

The metro has an above-average cost among what women would have to pay for day care (42.6% of their median earnings) — that’s the highest percentage across any of the 50 metros examined.

Riverside also has a 7.3% percentage of women ages 20 to 64 who are unemployed — again, this is highest among the 50 metros. The metro’s overall unemployment rate spiked to 15.2% at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020 and remained above 7% through August 2021. That — combined with the rising costs of goods — makes the metro an especially difficult place for women to find success.

Bottom 10 places for working women: Highlights
RankMetroFinal score% of women who are unemployed% of businesses owned by womenMedian earnings gap between men and women (%)% of state legislators who are womenParental and pregnancy workplace state protection score
1Riverside, Calif.28.87.3%18.9%18.1%31.7%75
2Detroit36.35.8%19.6%26.0%35.1%0
3Birmingham, Ala.36.95.4%17.0%22.5%17.1%13
4Indianapolis39.74.3%17.6%21.9%24.0%0
5Memphis, Tenn.39.96.7%19.7%18.4%16.7%17
6Cleveland40.15.3%18.2%21.0%31.1%0
7Oklahoma City40.43.8%19.5%24.4%20.8%0
8Pittsburgh40.94.2%18.5%24.0%29.2%0
9Houston41.25.3%22.7%18.6%26.5%13
10Charlotte, N.C.41.35.2%20.0%20.8%25.9%15
Source: MagnifyMoney analysis. See full rankings for data on additional metrics.

Detroit

Detroit emerges as the second-worst place for working women — in the same ranking as the last version of the MagnifyMoney study.

The wage gap in Detroit is concerning for working women, who earn 26.0% less than their male counterparts — second-worst across the 50 metros behind San Jose, Calif. And things are particularly grim for working mothers, as the state of Michigan doesn’t have any parental or pregnancy workplace protections either in place or in its plans.

Interestingly, Detroit has a lower unemployment rate for women than Las Vegas, which ranks as the 10th-best place for working women.

Birmingham, Ala.

Following closely ahead of Detroit is Birmingham, Ala.

Compared to other bottom-ranking areas, Birmingham has the lowest representation of women-owned businesses and the second-lowest percentage of women as state legislators. There may be a regional influence at play on the latter count: Many Southern states have low female representation in state legislatures.

As was the case with Detroit, Birmingham’s position since the previous study hasn’t changed.

Full rankings

Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on working women

While most of our data predates the pandemic based on availability, the crisis’s impact on working women can’t be overlooked.

Women — especially women of color — are more likely to have jobs that require in-person work. They were more likely to stop working than men — particularly those who have a high school diploma or less. They also took on increased elder care duties as the pandemic unfolded.

“The pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted the challenges working women already face,” Mangla says. “Caring for school-age children became even more difficult, as mothers were often the ones shepherding children through Zoom classes while also maintaining their own work. Women have also been hit hardest when it comes to jobs lost and wages affected.”

Here are a few ways women can succeed amid the pandemic:

  • Consider asking for a raise: As the pandemic has raised many living costs, increasing earnings is an important part of combatting those costs. Alternatively, looking for another job with a more generous income and benefits package may make sense.
  • Get a high-interest savings account: A high-yield account can be a great option for women looking to maximize their income. When expenses can vary somewhat unpredictably, having at least a small cash cushion can help prevent women from taking on high-interest debt.

Methodology

Each of the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) was ranked against each other on a 100-point scale based on eight factors relevant to women’s ability to achieve financial and professional success.

The final score for each MSA is the average of points assigned for each metric, and those points are assigned based on where the metro falls between the highest and lowest values for all metros.

The eight factors are:

  • Employment. The percentage of unemployed women ages 20 to 64. U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey (“2019 ACS”).
  • Health care. The percentage of women ages 19 to 64 with employer-based health insurance. 2019 ACS.
  • Business ownership. The percentage of businesses with employees that women wholly own U.S. Census Bureau 2019 Annual Business Survey.
  • Management positions. The percentage of women in management occupations. 2019 ACS.
  • Wage gap. The gap, as a percentage, between the median earnings of men and women. 2019 ACS.
  • Child care. The average cost of in-center child care for an infant (by state) as a percentage of median earnings for women (by MSA). 2020 Child Care Aware of America costs data compared to 2019 ACS median earnings. Child Care Aware didn’t publish costs data for 2019.
  • Representation. The percentage of elected state legislators who are women. Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. Data as of Feb. 16.
  • 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 88 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. Researchers included states where laws have been enacted but aren’t yet effective to show progress being made. National Partnership for Women & Families.
    • Pregnancy accommodation protections: Each MSA was granted points based on seven factors (reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families) for a possible total of 30 points, for the following:
      • The existence of such a law
      • If the law covers both public and private employees
      • If the law covers all employers, regardless of employer size
      • If the law doesn’t specify medical documentation for accommodations
      • If the law doesn’t specify an “undue hardship” exemption for employers
      • If the law expressly extends protections for issues related to breastfeeding
      • If there are explicit protections against discrimination or forced leave against women who require pregnancy accommodations
    • Allowable unpaid time off to attend school events: The number of hours spent at a child’s school, per year, for which a parent can’t be fired, divided by a maximum of 40 hours, up to 20 points. Workplace Fairness.

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.