The 10 Best Cities for Working Women
Life + Money

The 10 Best Cities for Working Women


Wages have increased for American women since the time when they made only 59% of men’s earnings, in 1974. But a gap persists. NerdWallet analyzed the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau to compare the median earnings of male full-time workers with the amount that female full-time workers make for all industries. We found that women take home about 80 cents for every $1 that men earn.

However, in some cities, women make nearly as much as, if not more than, men. To identify these places, NerdWallet examined data for 529 U.S. cities and ranked them based on the environment for working women.

Our analysis factors in 2014 census data on women’s earnings and labor force participation rate, as well as the cost of living by examining rent costs. It also includes the average 2015 unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Key takeaways

Industry makes a difference. Scan the top 10 list, and you’ll see a common thread: opportunities for women in health care and education at hospital systems and universities. This makes sense, given that a disproportionate number of women work in these fields.

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According to the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, women hold 78.4% of jobs in the health care and social assistance industry, in workplaces such as physicians’ offices, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Women also work in 68.5% of jobs in educational services, which includes positions in schools, colleges and trade schools.

In a few cities, women earn more than men. In 17 of the 529 cities analyzed, women’s median earnings were higher than men’s earnings. Three of those cities also saw high scores for women in other measures and made our top 10. These cities include Durham, North Carolina; Skokie, Illinois; and Redwood City, California.

Minnesota dominates the top 10. Rochester (No. 1), Minneapolis (No. 2) and St. Paul (No. 3) lock down the top spots in our rankings. In each city, women’s median earnings are more than 90% of men’s, unemployment is lower than the national average, and the cost of living is also lower than other places in our analysis.

Best cities for women in the workforce 2016

1. Rochester, Minnesota

In our top city, women’s median earnings in 2014 were 92.3% of men’s — well above the 79.8% national rate reported in the 2014 American Community Survey. Plus, women living in Rochester don’t have to overspend on housing: Median monthly rent is 22.2% of monthly earnings, the lowest percentage of the top 10. For context, federal guidelines advise spending no more than 30% of gross income on housing. The Mayo Clinic is the largest employer in Rochester and in the state, according to the Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. The medical center employs more than 32,000 people in Minnesota. Other major Rochester employers include Rochester Public Schools, Olmsted Medical Center and IBM.

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2. Minneapolis

Women’s median earnings in Minneapolis were 94% of men’s in 2014. And while Minneapolis is the most populous city in our top 10, with more than 400,000 residents, workers won’t find big-city rents. Paying the median monthly rent in Minneapolis takes 22.4% of women’s median earnings. Target is headquartered in Minneapolis and is the city’s largest employer. Financial institutions including Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp and Ameriprise Financial also employ thousands of residents, according to the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

3. St. Paul, Minnesota

Minneapolis’ twin city, St. Paul, rounds out Minnesota’s domination of the top three. In St. Paul, women participate in the workforce at almost the same rate as men, lagging by only 0.6%, which suggests that the working environment is a strong one for women. On a national scale, the difference in the workforce participation rate for men and women is a full 10 percentage points. The St. Paul area is home to Fortune 500 companies such as 3M Co., Ecolab and St. Jude Medical.

4. Iowa City, Iowa

Of the 529 cities NerdWallet analyzed, there are 24 places where the percentage of women in the workforce is higher than the participation rate of men. One of those places is Iowa City, where women top men by 9.4 percentage points. Iowa City also stands out on our list for its average unemployment rate of 2.5% in 2015 — one of the lowest on our list and below the national average of 5.3% in that year. Like many of the top places on our list, Iowa City offers opportunities for women in health care and education. The University of Iowa and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are the largest employers in the city, followed by Iowa City Community School District, Iowa City VA Health Care System and Mercy Iowa City hospital, according to the Iowa City Area Development Group.

5. Denton, Texas

In this city about 50 miles northwest of Dallas, women’s median earnings are 93.5% of men’s. Many women likely work in Denton’s educational institutions — including the University of North Texas, Denton Independent School District and Texas Woman’s University, which are among the city’s top employers, according to the Denton Economic Development Partnership. Other major employers include Peterbilt Motors and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton, Denton Regional Medical Center and Denton State Supported Living Center.

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6. Durham, North Carolina

Durham is one of only 17 places in our 529-city analysis where women outearn men. Here, women’s median earnings are 101.9% of men’s median earnings, compared with the national rate of 79.8%. The city’s main industries are education and health care, with Duke University and its health system employing more than 35,000 people. The tech industry is a force in Durham, too. Research Triangle Park, a technology research and development hub, is home to more than 200 companies, including an IBM operation that employs about 10,000 people, according to the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

7. Ann Arbor, Michigan

Nationwide, the workforce participation rate for women is 10 percentage points lower than that for men. In Ann Arbor, however, the difference is 3.6%. Similar to Duke University’s impact in Durham, the University of Michigan shapes Ann Arbor’s economy around health care and education. The University of Michigan Health System employs about 18,000 people, and more 10,000 people work at the university, according to Ann Arbor Spark, an economic development organization.

8. Bismarck, North Dakota

In Bismarck, the percentage of women participating in the workforce tops that of men by 0.4%. Bismarck also stands out for having the lowest average 2015 unemployment rate of the top 10 cities at 2.4%, compared with the national average of 5.3%. Many residents of North Dakota’s capital are employed in state, federal and local government. Sanford Health, CHI St. Alexius Health and the Bismarck Public School District are major employers as well, according to the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association.

9. Skokie, Illinois

In Skokie, a village of 65,000 residents about 16 miles northwest of Chicago, women’s median earnings trump men’s by 3.6%. Skokie also has a AAA bond rating from Fitch IBCA, which indicates strong economic health and financial management. The village’s largest employers are NorthShore University HealthSystem and Federal-Mogul Motorparts Inc. Retailers such as Macy’s and Nordstrom employ Skokie residents as well, according to the 2015 Village of Skokie Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Skokie residents can also access Chicago’s plentiful opportunities via public transportation or a drive on the interstate.

10. Redwood City, California

In Redwood City, the median salary for women is nearly 10% higher than that of men. Of all 529 cities NerdWallet analyzed, there were only two places — Santa Barbara, California, and Gaithersburg, Maryland — where women outearned men by a higher percentage. Something to note about Redwood City, however, is that men’s workplace participation rates are 15.3 percentage points higher than women’s, compared with the national difference of 10 percentage points. Redwood City’s job market reflects its location between the technology hubs of San Francisco and San Jose. Oracle and Electronic Arts were Redwood City’s top private employers in 2015, according to the city’s website.

This piece originally appeared in NerdWallet. Read more at NerdWallet:

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