Tipping Points in Income Inequality

Good news: there are places in America where the gender wage gap is completely flipped on its head, with women earning, on average, more than men. The bad news? You can count the number of these nearly mythical places on your fingers and toes: according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are only 16 U.S. cities where women’s salaries are higher than men’s.

In a recent study, analysts at personal finance site NerdWallet looked at women’s earnings, income equality and population growth in 522 U.S. cities to determine the best cities of various sizes for working women.

“Most of these cities weren’t ones you’d expect,” said Divya Raghavan, a senior data analyst at NerdWallet. “A lot of them were a little smaller, a lot of them had very diverse economies.”

For example, the top large city on the list is Aurora, Colorado, which employs women in a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, bioscience, renewable energy and transportation, Raghavan said. This diversity in available jobs could be a driving factor in the absence of the traditional wage gap, but perhaps even more indicative are the specific sectors represented.

Yuliya LaRoe, marketing committee chairman for the Women’s Chamber of Commerce in Miami Gardens, Florida, said that Miami Gardens’ spot on the list of cities with a reversed pay gap “frankly didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” until she considered the type of work available in Miami Gardens.

“We’re heavily based in the hospitality industry, which relies on connections and people skills,” LaRoe said. “There’s a tendency, or at least a desire, to believe that women are overall better suited for those tasks, and that they naturally gravitate toward those roles.”

The reason, then, for the city’s women earning an average of 110 percent of men’s incomes could simply be that more of them have been able to find employment in the area.

Other industries, rather than just being more suited to women’s inherent abilities, place a higher premium on income equality. Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C., said that Washington’s narrow wage gap can be attributed in part to the prevalence of government jobs.

“The public sector is typically good for women because there is greater transparency in those positions,” Hegewisch said.

Transparency in standard wage rates, in recruitment and in promotions, according to Hegewisch, is key to increased equality of men’s and women’s incomes.

Additionally, many of the cities on NerdWallet’s list had organizations dedicated to connecting and empowering local working women, such as the Miami Gardens Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Women’s Network.

“We have a variety of programs, including more educational meetings about business networking, actual networking breakfasts and luncheons, panel discussions with local community leaders and partnerships with local nonprofits,” LaRoe said.

These events, and the women’s chamber in general, help to build a community in which women can support each other.

“When women network and do business together, they do it differently than when men are involved — the rules and expectations are a little bit different,” LaRoe said. “There’s more of a ‘meeting of the minds’ when women work with other women.”

With American women earning, on average, 77 cents for every dollar men do, the rest of the country would do well to follow the example of these high-performing cities by encouraging diversity of industries within their own cities, demanding increased transparency from employers and establishing support networks for women in local workforces.

There isn’t a magic spell that will suddenly shatter the gender pay gap, but these strategies are steps in the right direction.

“It’s an ongoing conversation, and as long as there’s a constant dialogue, we’ll keep moving forward,” LaRoe said.