Atlantic Cities

Best U.S. Metros for Women's Well-Being

Washington, D.C., tops the list of the leading metros for women's well-being, according to new study from the Social Science Research Council's Measure of America project. San Francisco is second, Boston third, Minneapolis-St. Paul fourth, and New York fifth. At the opposite end of the spectrum, women are doing less well than the "typical American" in six metros: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Tampa–St. Petersburg, Houston, San Antonio, and Riverside–San Bernardino.

The ranking is based on three key factors: a long and healthy life (measured as life expectancy based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), access to knowledge (using two measures, school enrollment rates for 3 to 24 year-olds and degree attainment for adults 25 years of age and older), and a decent standard of living (measured as median annual personal earnings). It is similar to the organization's American Human Development Index, which is in turn based on the widely recognized United Nations Human Development Index.
 

The chart (below) shows the full rankings:

D.C. tops the list in two of the three categories that make up the overall index: female earnings and educational attainment. Median earnings for women in the Washington metro area are $38,000, $9,000 dollars higher than median personal earnings for the U.S. as a whole and $16,000 more than in Riverside-San Bernardino. San Francisco ranks first in one category, life expectancy, and is in the top three on all three categories. San Francisco and Baltimore take second and third on female earnings, while Boston and San Francisco take second and third on female educational attainment. L.A. and San Diego come in second and third on life expectancy. 

Despite substantial differences across metros, the report points out that "on the whole, women living in the most populous metro areas have higher levels of well-being than the typical American woman."  Young women were significantly more likely than young men to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher in all 25 metros.  

Also of note: women's earnings track closely with their marital status. Earnings for women are considerably higher in metros where higher percentages of women have never been married, according to the report. Women in the top 25 metros account for 20 percent of the entire U.S. population.

Women's life expectancy also varies considerably by race and ethnicity. The life expectancy of Asian-American women exceeds 90 years of age in five metros: Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. This is "four years longer than women in Japan, the country with the world’s highest life expectancy," according to the report. African-American women have the lowest levels of life expectancy, 11 years lower on average than for Asian-American women for the U.S. as a whole.

My reading of the data is that women's well-being tracks closely with the transition to more knowledge based economies, being highest in large post-industrial cities of the Bos-Wash corridor, northern and southern California, the Pacific Northwest as well as Denver and the Twin Cites of Minneapolis-St. Paul and substantially lower in the older industrial cities of the Midwest and Sunbelt.

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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