Expert Commentary

Women’s well-being: Ranking America’s top 25 metro areas

2012 report by the Social Science Research Council on comparative well-being levels for women living in the metropolitan United States.


Since the women’s rights movement began in the 1960s, women have secured many professional and personal rights, from more equitable treatment in the workplace to the legalization of abortion.  However, inequities remain: Women still earn less than men and make up a higher percentage of the working poor despite higher rates of college attendance.

A 2012 study by Measure of America, a division of the Social Science Research Council, “Women’s Well-Being: Ranking America’s Top 25 Metro Areas,” compared the experiences of women in the most populous metropolitan areas of the United States. The researchers used the American Human Development Index, a summary measure that synthesizes government data into three primary categories: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.

Key findings include:

  • The top-scoring metropolitan areas were Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York; the lowest scores were Riverside-San Bernardino, San Antonio, Houston, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Pittsburgh.
  • Women in Washington, D.C. ($37,657), San Francisco ($35,380) and Boston ($31,503) earned significantly more annually than their counterparts in Riverside-San Bernardino ($22,306), Pittsburgh ($23,557) and San Antonio ($24,961). The 2012 poverty guideline for a family of four in the continental United States is $23,050. Women tended to earn more in areas where a higher percentage of women were unmarried.
  • Educational attainment and enrollment accounts for much of the differences in wages. Close to 20% of women in Washington, D.C., hold an advanced degree compared to only 6.9% of those in San Bernardino. “In Pittsburgh, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul, only about 6% of young women ages 25 to 34 did not complete high school, the best outcome on this indicator among the 25 cities. In contrast, in Riverside-San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Houston, that rate is almost 17%, nearly three times the rate among the top three.”
  • “African American women face disproportionate health challenges. For instance, they are more than 15 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS as white women, and three times as likely as Latina women.” Close to 44% of African American women are obese, compared to 27% of all women, and they are more likely to be poor and live in distressed areas.
  • Asian-American women are better educated and live longer and are less likely to be obese (7.9% vs. 27%) or smoke (3.6% vs. 15%) than other women.

The researchers noted that “understanding differences among women is critical to crafting policy and making public investments that meet their needs and expand their choices and opportunities.”

Tags: women and work

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