Nearly 70 years after Rosie the Riveter assembled munitions and 48 years after Betty Friedan articulated "the problem with no name," the topic of sex equality in America retains a constant place in the national discourse. The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the largest sex-discrimination class action case in U.S. history, between retail giant Walmart and more than a million past and present female employees. Women still make 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. And many industries, from nursing to construction, have dramatically uneven sexual representation. Data suggests that this type of fairness in the labor force ranges widely from place to place. According to a U.S. News analysis of Census figures, Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., is the most equal metropolitan area in the country in terms of gender in the workplace, while cities in Texas and Utah make up a majority of the least-equal metropolitan areas.
U.S. News compiled these rankings by comparing male and female representation in the workforce, representation across industries, median annual earnings, and educational attainment in each city. The figures point to several trends. The data indicate a correlation between education and earnings, but also shows that wage gaps persist between men and women at all education levels.
Public sector employment may have contributed to certain cities' high rankings. Portia Wu, Vice President at the National Partnership for Women & Families, says that the pay policies at many public sector jobs tend to promote fairness: "You may face barriers to promotion [working in the public sector], but by and large, you at least know what everyone else is making, and the parameters are set by collective bargaining." This may help explain why four state capitals, plus Washington, D.C., rank among the 10 most equal cities.
Race also plays a role in income and employment equality, according to Michele Leber, Chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition of women's and civil rights organizations that works to end wage discrimination on the basis of race and sex. "Women of color tend to have larger wage gaps," she says, which could contribute to the lower rankings of several cities in Texas, which has a large Hispanic population. "Latinas earn 58 cents to the dollar of all men," adds Leber, compared to the national figure of 77 cents.
There are also pronounced gaps between the sexes in education. Women have outpaced men in terms of associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees, while more men have professional and doctoral degrees than women. However, this trend may reverse in coming years; in April, the Census reported that women have surpassed men in advanced degree attainment, with 10.6 million women having master's degrees or higher, compared to 10.5 million men.
Leber says that the effects of increased education levels among women may take time to translate into wage equality. "The fact that women are getting more [advanced] degrees may help eventually," she says, but adds that "women need to catch up to men in the labor force in terms of experience." Education appears to be paying off in some cities; in Durham, for example, women have 60 percent of all master's degrees and 46 percent of all professional degrees, compared to the national figures of 54 and 39 percent. Durham women's median earnings are 88 percent of their male counterparts--one of the smallest wage gaps of all the cities ranked. Meanwhile, in Provo-Orem, Utah, women have less than half of all bachelor's degrees in town, 35 percent of master's degrees, and 19 percent of doctorates. The city's heavily skewed earnings numbers reflect this: median earnings for a full-time, year-round female worker in Provo are around $29,000, compared to over $47,900 for men.
Some measures of sex equality in the workplace are not as easily quantifiable, and it should be noted that these rankings do not take into account important factors that can also vary widely from workplace to workplace, such as parental leave policies or equitable promotions for men and women.
On a scale of 0 to 100, with lower figures indicating higher levels of equality, these are the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas (population 300,000 or greater) that have the greatest equality between the sexes in terms of employment, earnings, representation by sex across industries, and educational attainment.
|Metro Area||Sex Equality Index|
|Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.||8.1|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif.||22.6|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.||24.8|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wisc.||25.1|
|Metro Area||Sex Equality Index|
|Beaumont-Port Arthur, Tex.||71.7|
|Corpus Christi, Tex.||70.8|
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