For women, who earn between 70 and 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, the gender pay gap makes earnings across the country unequal, and most definitely unfair. But a new look at the numbers shows that both their earning power-and its relative "fair"-factor-can be especially impacted by the place they call home.
To unearth the cities where the gender gap is at its widest (unfair) and narrowest (closer to fair?), ForbesWoman analyzed data from the 2010 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, using the mean earnings for full-time, year-round female workers in the largest metro areas in the country. When it comes to both ends of the fairness spectrum, there are both societal and economic factors at play.
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At No. 1, the most unfair city to be a working woman in America, or the city where women earn just 54 cents for every dollar earned by men, is Stamford, Connecticut. Women in this metro earn an average of $63,553 annually while their boyfriends, husband and brothers pull in nearly $120,000. While it's important to note that $63,553 isn't a pittance of a salary-it's twice as much as the worst-paying city for women-McAllen, Tex. where women earn just $31,287 each year-but the gap is astonishing.
Stamford, which is home to hundreds of hedge funds, has the highest median household income in the country, and Anne York, a professor of gender and economy at Raleigh, North Carolina's Meredith College adds that it's also among the top five U.S. cities for major corporate headquarters . As the finance sector is regularly on the most egregious end of the BLS scale for gender pay gap, Stamford's positioning, she says, is easily explained. "Whenever there is a large concentration of jobs in very high-paying occupations, you'll tend to find more men in those occupations than women," she says, which skews the overall pay gap.
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Ariane Hegewisch, a study director for the Institute for Women's Policy Research with a particular eye on the pay gap says that in addition to the old boy's club of the financial services industry, there are some cultural distinctions in Connecticut that play into the massive divide between men and women's earnings in the state. "Connecticut has a high wage gap overall," she says, "There are some traditional gender distributions at play." She explains that better off women with highly-compensated partners often tend to work part-time or in lower earning jobs by choice rather than out of necessity.
But moving on from the very worst city for women's earnings, we head south for more. In fact, five of the 10 cities with the widest gender wage gaps are Southern: No. 3, Knoxville, Tenn.; No. 4, Baton Rouge, Louis.; Jackson, Miss. And No. 9, Tulsa, Okla. While these are low-earning metros for women (all mean earnings are less than $40,000 for women), men earn roughly $60,000. York posits that there could be cultural implications at play in these cities as well that contribute to holding women's earnings down, saying they could be linked to "traditional religious beliefs about the role of women" in the South, citing studies that indicate the regions deep-rooted religious conviction.
Another area where women are suffering from inequality is Utah, which sees both Provo and Utah in among the 10 highest offenders. But while it could be easy to jump to the same religious explanations, she doesn't think that's the case. Both Provo and Ogden, she says, are areas where opportunities for employment skew towards better-paid male-dominated fields. Provo has a burgeoning tech community while Ogden's economy is heavy in transportation and production jobs, both industries that perform poorly on the BLS' industry chart of women's earnings.
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But it's not all gender bias and gloomy news for women in the state of Utah. For while we ran the numbers to find the worst cities for women, we inevitably discovered the best, and Utah's capitol, Salt Lake City, landed at No. 9. With women's mean earnings at just $34,185 annually, men out earn them by just $10,000 each year. In other words, women earn nearly 80 cents to the dollar of their male colleagues, much closer (although still depressing) to the national average.
Claiming the No. 1 spot for the narrowest wage gap in the country (read: the most fair city to be a working woman) is a surprise: Riverside, California. The top 10 also includes such sunny-and surprising-locales as Los Angeles, Honolulu and Las Vegas, Nevada. "Vegas?" you ask, "How can this be explained?"
Sadly, it's not the best news. According to Hegewish at IWPR, it's often in cities with the lowest overall earnings where we see the slimmest gender gap in wages. In addition, she says, they're often regions with high proportions of unemployment. "So if you don't have good opportunities for either men or women," she says, "We often find a lower wage gap. A job is a job." To her point, California suffers from a 10.9% unemployment rate, more than two points higher than the national average of 8.2. So while women may be earning salaries much more proportionate to mens', they may be more concerned with employment in general than celebrating their success on the scale of pay equality.
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An additionally interesting insight on the best-performing cities on this first-time list for ForbesWoman comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, which regularly monitors women's equality in earnings form industry to industry. Los Angeles, Honolulu and Las Vegas all count tourism among the top sources of revenue to the city economy. The BLS consistently reports that the leisure and hospitality industry falls in the top three sectors for women's pay (with agriculture and construction).
What city is glaringly missing from this list? As we looked at mean earnings (as opposed to median) to get a better sense of the full range of earnings in each city, Washington D.C. is conspicuously missing from the top-ten most "fair" cities for women's earnings. The U.S. capitol is often considered among the best-performing cities for women's pay as there are a large number of well-paying (and regulated) government jobs. But as ForbesWoman looks at the mean, rather than median earnings for men and women (we feel it paints a more accurate picture of the often wide-ranging incomes in each city), D.C.'s numbers are far from fair: the mean annual earnings for women in the city are $64,779 while men pull in nearly 25% more at $85,963.
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