Women in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Boston Top New Measure of America Ranking of Women’s Well-Being

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Study uses American Human Development Index to find that Women Living in Major Metro Areas Fare Better than the Typical American Woman; Widespread Disparity Between Metro Regions Persists

Measure of America

Countless studies focus on gender inequality—the differences between women and men—but few examine the disparities between different groups of women.

Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Boston top the rankings of a new study released this week by Measure of America, Women’s Well-Being: Ranking America’s Top 25 Metro Areas, while Houston, San Antonio, and Riverside-San Bernardino round out the bottom three metro areas. Women’s Well-Being explores how women are faring using the American Human Development Index, which is comprised of official government data in health, education, and standard of living.

“Countless studies focus on gender inequality—the differences between women and men—but few examine the disparities between different groups of women,” said Kristen Lewis, Co-Director, Measure of America. “By studying differences between groups of women, across race and region, patterns begin to emerge that can inform policymaking discussions and highlight areas that require resources and attention from the public and private sectors—government, philanthropy, and academia,” added Sarah Burd-Sharps, Co-Director, Measure of America.

Women living in the top twenty-five metro areas account for one in every five Americans. Their well-being and access to opportunity is critical not just to them and their families but also to the prospects of the United States as a whole. Women in Washington D.C. earn the most money (median personal earnings: $37,700), and have the highest levels of education, with an American Human Development Index score of 6.80 (overall U.S. score: 5.03; overall U.S. women’s score: 5.00), better than residents of Connecticut, the state with the highest overall levels of well-being. Women in San Francisco, with an American Human Development Index score of 6.72, have the highest life expectancy, 84.5 years. Conversely, in bottom-ranked Riverside-San Bernardino, with an American Human Development Index score of 4.54, one in five adult women never completed high school, and the typical female worker earns about $22,300 a year and can expect to live 81.7 years.

The study finds that women living in major metro areas are doing better than the typical American woman. However, not all urban and suburban women have the same choices and opportunities; the study shows how basic indicators in health, education, and income intersect with other important factors, among them race, ethnicity, age, the opportunities of the marketplace, and marital status, to form a more complete picture of the critical factors shaping women’s well-being and access to opportunity.



  •     San Francisco (life expectancy of 84.5 years), Los Angeles (83.8 years), and San Diego (83.7 years) top the longevity charts for women, while St. Louis (80.5 years), Baltimore (80.4 years), and Detroit (80.3 years) round out the bottom three.
  •     Expected longevity for women varies greatly by race, ethnicity, and geography. Life expectancy at birth for Asian American women in the Washington, DC area is a remarkable 92.3 years. Better health and a longer lifespan are associated with higher levels of education. Life expectancy at birth for African American women in Pittsburgh is only 75, over 17 year less. Health risk factors like smoking and obesity are among the many things driving these outcomes. Only 3.6 percent of Asian American women nationwide smoke compared to 15 percent of all women. Obesity affects 44.3 percent of African American women, compared to 27.1 percent of all women.
  •     Asian American women, with an average life span of 88.6 years, also have higher levels of educational attainment than any other group. Yet there is a five-year gap separating the longest- and shortest-lived Asian American women: 92.3 years in Washington, D.C. versus 87.1 years in Riverside-San Bernardino.


  •     Washington D.C. (6.64 on the Education Index), Boston (6.64), and San Francisco (6.29) represent the top three metro areas for education. Phoenix (4.62), San Antonio (4.59), and Riverside-San Bernardino (4.10) represent the bottom three.
  •     There has been a clear trend of female educational attainment improving with each generation. While one in four women over 65 never completed high school, only 11 percent of women aged 25-34 lack a high school diploma. Similar trends are evident at the college and graduate levels of education as well.
  •     In the Los Angeles and Riverside-San Bernardino metro areas, more than one adult women in four has never completed high school. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, only about one women in fifteen has never finished this basic level of schooling.
  •     Research shows that a quality preschool for three- and four year-old children pays huge dividends for children and society for many years, contributing to community gains such as lower dropout rates, fewer students requiring special education classes, higher rates of homeownership, lower incarceration rates, higher earnings, and more tax revenues for public investment. While over half of preschool-aged children are in a center-based program in DC, San Francisco, and Boston, only about 40 percent of three- and four year-olds are enrolled in preschool in Riverside-San Bernardino.


  •     Washington D.C. ($37,700 median earnings), San Francisco ($35,400), and Baltimore ($32,500) are the top three metro regions for women’s standard of living. San Antonio ($23,600), Pittsburgh ($23,300), and Riverside-San Bernardino ($22,300) are the bottom three.
  •     Women tend to earn more in metro areas where greater shares of women are unmarried.
  •     Men still earn more on average than women by a large margin. In fact, the typical male worker with a bachelor’s degree earns about $5,000 more per year than the typical female worker with a graduate degree.
  •     Education is an essential ingredient for greater economic security. Women without high school diplomas are three times as likely as women with bachelor’s degrees to be unemployed. Between 2007 and 2010, the unemployment rate of women without a high school diploma rose from 8 percent to 15 percent; for women with at least a bachelor’s degree, it rose from only 2 percent to 5 percent.

Using demographic information such as race and ethnicity, age, and marital status, the study determined that across the country, high-scoring metro regions on the American Human Development Index were not without their share of disparities between subsets of the population. Using this information, policymakers and metro area residents alike will be able to identify areas of need and work toward creating positive changes throughout their communities.

This study was made possible by the generous support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

About Measure of America and the American Human Development Index
An initiative of the Social Science Research Council, Measure of America provides easy-to-use yet methodologically sound tools for understanding the distribution of well-being and opportunity in America and stimulating fact-based dialogue about issues we all care about: health, education, and living standards.

The hallmark of this work is the American Human Development Index. GDP tells us how the economy is doing. The American Human Development Index tells us how people are doing, and empowers communities with a tool to track progress over time. The Index is comprised of health, education, and income indicators and allows for well-being rankings of the 50 states, 435 congressional districts, county groups within states, women and men, and racial and ethnic groups.

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John Keaten
Measure of America
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