In These 22 Cities, Women Under 30 Are Out-Earning Men—Or At Least Reaching Pay Parity
The gender pay gap still looms large on a national level for women, as recent “equal pay day” headlines reminded everyone. But in a small yet growing number of metropolitan areas—including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.—young women’s median pay has reached parity when compared with their male peers, and in some cases, even tops what young men are making.
A new Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data finds that nationally, the median woman under 30 who works full time earns 93% of what her male peers make. Yet in 22 of 250 U.S. metropolitan areas, young women now make between 100% and 120% of what their male counterparts earn—a small but positive sign the gender pay gap is slowly narrowing. That’s likely a result, say experts, of a combination of factors—from gains in higher education and more employer pay audits to increased pay equity laws and more demands from younger workers.
Twenty-two cities may not sound like much, says Pew senior researcher Richard Fry, “except those 22 metros include some really big metros like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. And if we look at where young women live, these cities actually include 16% of the young women’s workforce.” That percentage is more than three times the 5% of the young women’s workforce who lived in the just six metro areas, Fry says, where young women had equal or higher pay in 2000.
In Naples, Florida, for instance, young women make 108% of their male peers at the median, while in San Diego, it’s 105%. In New York and Washington, D.C. it’s 102%, and in Los Angeles it’s equal, or 100%, Pew’s analysis shows.
The report, which was released Monday and is based on 2015-2019 data from the American Community Survey, the largest household survey in the U.S., also found that the pay gap had narrowed for young women over the past two decades, from 88% of their male peers’ pay in 2000 to 93% today.
Fry acknowledges that looking at young women’s pay allows for findings that disappear when comparing pay for older women, who often face penalties after taking time off to care for family or among whom there are often wider gaps in management positions. If in 2000, women aged 16 to 29 made 88 cents on the dollar, Fry says, the group of women aged 35 to 48 nearly 20 years later make just 80% of their male counterparts. That’s part of the “family gap,” Fry says.
The median pay gap, of course, reflects overall compensation comparisons across occupation and employers, which may account for some of the gap. Fewer women may still be choosing to go into high paying technology careers such as computer engineering or other professions with long hours, such as investment banking, as they anticipate future family obligations, Fry says.
Regional differences in employment opportunities may also play a role in the differences: Fry notes that the city with the widest gender gap, Elkhart-Goshen, Indiana, where young women make just 67% of their male peers, is known as the “RV Capital of the World,” and has more manufacturing jobs that are predominantly held by men. (He isn’t sure why young women in Wenatchee, Washington, known as the “apple capital of the world” for its apple orchards, make 120% of their male peers. But he notes other cities near the top of the list, such as Morgantown, West Virginia and Gainesville, Florida, could reflect those college towns having more higher education-related jobs.)
But what explains why parity has increased—or even become lopsided in young women’s favor—over time in some cities? Education levels may be connected, says Fry, noting there is a correlation between metro areas where the pay gap is smaller and those where young women have been outpacing men in terms of college degrees.
Yet pay experts also point to other factors. Christine Hendrickson, vice president of strategic initiatives for Syndio, which does pay equity audits for major corporations, says a generational shift may be at play, and that employers are responding.
“Gen-Z talks. They talk to each other about pay. They create lists. They contribute to Glassdoor. They talk about it on Slack.”
“Gen-Z talks,” she says, referring to young workers. “They talk to each other about pay. They create lists. They contribute to Glassdoor. They talk about it on Slack.” Combine that with more restrictions through pay transparency laws at the state level, more tools ranging from worker-generated spreadsheets to sites like Glassdoor for learning about pay levels and more companies doing pay equity audits, and it’s not surprising those trends are having an effect, Hendrickson says.
“It’s really night and day” from just a few years ago in the way employers thought about pay equity and workers talked about it, she says.
Cadran Cowansage, a co-founder of Elpha, an online career network aimed at women in technology that has compiled a salary database with member input, says she’s noticed anecdotally how more senior women are “talking about how culturally, things are shifting.” When they were younger, she says, pay discussions “felt totally taboo.” Women at more senior stages in their careers are “still getting comfortable with where things are today—the flipside being that people who are coming into the workforce now do feel more comfortable talking about compensation.”
A new survey of Elpha’s members finds that women under 30 are slightly more likely than their older peers to say they would value a pay transparency policy from their employer, as well that they have discussed salary with coworkers. “New and recent grads are coming into the workforce much better educated about the gender pay gap and the conversation about salary transparency is much more sophisticated today than it was even a few years ago,” says Cowansage.
Still, Elpha’s survey also shows that entry level women are less likely to say they negotiated their salary than women with even one year of experience, an issue that concerns pay equity advocates. Gloria Blackwell, CEO of American Association of University Women (AAUW), which has long examined pay discrepancies for women even at the earliest stages of their careers, says salary negotiation and equal pay at the beginning of women’s professional lives is particularly critical.
“It really sets the stage for loss throughout your career when women do not negotiate, their negotiations are not accepted or they receive a lower salary,” she says. “It compounds throughout their career,” noting research shows that on average, women can lose out on some $400,000 if they have a lower starting salary.
“It is imperative women get paid the salaries they deserve from day one,” Blackwell says. “This has a tremendous impact.”
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