Can where you hang your hat shape the size of your salary? Absolutely. U.S. job markets vary drastically by region, state and municipality. Women, who earn between 70 and 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, may be especially impacted by the place they call home.
To uncover the U.S. cities where women earn the most, ForbesWoman analyzed data from the 2010 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, using the average earnings for full-time, year-round female workers in the largest metro areas in the nation.
At No. 1, San Jose, Calif., tops the list. Women in this West Coast city earn an average of $67,052 annually for full-time work. That’s more than twice as much as the worst-paying city for women — McAllen, Texas — where women earn a mean of just $31,287 each year.
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The top industries in San Jose are: manufacturing; professional, scientific and management services; and education and health care — and most workers are employed with private institutions. Women likely earn more here because 43.7 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher and are concentrated in management, business, science and arts occupations (48.4 percent) rather than service jobs (17.4 percent).
In fact, California cities ranked especially well for women’s pay, with six featured in the top 20. Women earn an annual mean of $65,526 in San Francisco (No. 2); $54,800 in the Oxnard metro area (No. 8); $50,794 in Sacramento (No. 16); $50,670 in San Diego (No. 17); and $50,593 in Los Angeles (No. 18).
“Metro areas like San Jose and San Francisco require highly skilled and trained labor, and recruit people with backgrounds in engineering and computer science, which are higher paying and have less discriminatory effect,” says Susan McTiernan, a management professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. She adds that the high cost of living in these areas also boosts professional salaries.
The third best-paying city for women is politically correct Washington, D.C., where women earn an average of $64,779 each year. A quarter of the capital’s citizens work for the government, which offers a plethora of high-paying, well-regulated jobs with narrower gender wage gaps. Women here are also well educated: 45.5 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. (For comparison, in nearby Virginia Beach, Va., 28.5 percent of women have this level of education.) “This district has been identified as having a strong male-female earnings ratio,” McTiernan says. “Jobs here require the highest level of education, and many more women today are pursuing professional positions in law, medicine and academia.”
Cities in the Northeast also placed highly, likely due to the large concentration of top-rated colleges and professional jobs in the region. In Connecticut, which McTiernan says attracts financial services, Bridgeport (No. 4), Hartford (No. 7) and New Haven (No. 13) all feature sizeable salaries for women. Meanwhile, Boston (No. 5) just edged out New York (No. 6).
A few cities stand out and on their own. Women in Seattle (No. 10), home of major corporations like Microsoft and Starbucks, earn an average of $53,039 annually. Boasting well-regarded companies and colleges, women in Minneapolis (No. 11) make $52,243. And in Denver (No. 12), home to a burgeoning financial services sector, women take home $51,433 each year.
According to McTiernan, women’s paychecks fare worse in locales where less skilled labor is required. The cities in which women earn the least annually, all with average female salaries below $37,000, include El Paso, Texas; Youngstown, Ohio; Provo, Utah; Lakeland, Fla.; and Jackson, Miss.
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© 2012 Forbes.com