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While there is still a long way to go, women have made significant strides over the last few decades to achieve greater equality in education, earnings and business ownership. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, 57.4% of adult women participated in the workforce, which is still much less than 69.2% of men, but a big jump nevertheless over the 51.5% of participating women workers in 1980. It’s important to note that this rate has gone down since 2000, when women’s workforce participation reached 59.9%. Keeping this in mind, SmartAsset took a closer look at the U.S. cities where women are particularly successful in the workplace, and crunched the numbers to identify and rank them for the 2021 edition of this study.

To find where women are most successful, we compared the 200 largest cities in the country across the following metrics: percentage of women with a bachelor’s degree, median earnings for full-time working women, percentage of business owners who are women, housing costs as a percentage of women’s earnings and the percentage of full-time working women earning at least $75,000 per year. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s fourth study on the cities where women are most successful. You can read the 2020 study here.

Key Findings

  • Western cities rank at the top. Five out of the top 10 cities in our 2021 study are in Western states, and three of those are in the top five. They include Bellevue, Washington; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; and Scottsdale, Arizona. Last year, only four western cities were in the top 10, and only one of those had made it into the top five.
  • Women lead in education. More than one in three women, an average 35.52% across our study, have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. This means that women are outpacing the national overall percentage of 33.12%.

1. Washington, DC

Washington, D.C. ranks in the top quartile of the study for all five of our metrics. The median earnings for full-time working women in the city is $72,750, the eighth-highest total overall. It also has the eighth-highest percentage of full-time working women earning at least $75,000 (49%). Additionally, 58.82% of the capital’s women older than 25 also have at least a bachelor’s degree, the 10th-highest percentage in our study.

2. Bellevue, WA

This Seattle, Washington suburb ranks second in our study for education, with 67.31% of Bellevue’s women older than 25 having at least a bachelor’s degree. The city also has the fourth-highest median earnings for full-time working women, $78,880. Bellevue ranks in the top quartile of the study for four out of five metrics. The city ranks within the top half of our study for affordable housing, with median housing costs amounting to 33.12% of the median earnings for women in Bellevue.

3. Seattle, WA

Women in Seattle, Washington have the sixth-highest education rate in our study, with 66.12% of those who are older than 25 having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Full-time working women in this city earn $71,733, and 47.21% earn at least $75,000.

4. Portland, OR

Almost half of the businesses in Portland, Oregon (48.9%) are owned by women entrepreneurs, the 12th-highest rate for this metric in our study. This city also has the 18th-highest rate for our education metric, with 55.95% of women older than 25 having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Portland ranks 79th out of 200 for affordable housing, as women there spend 32.46% of their earnings on housing costs.

5. Overland Park, KS

Overland Park, Kansas is the only Midwestern city in the top 10 of our study. Women in this city have the 13th-highest percentage for education, as 58.46% of those older than 25 have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Overland Park also has the 24th-highest median earnings overall, with full-time working women making $56,570. The city ranks 66th out of 200 for women entrepreneurs, with 39.7% of Overland Park businesses owned by women.

6. San Francisco, CA

Full-time working women in San Francisco, California earn $80,163, the highest median earnings in our study. More than half of full-time working women (53.64%) earn at least $75,000, also ranking at the top of our list for this metric. While San Francisco falls to 76th place for affordable housing (women spend 32.23% of their income on housing costs), the city has the 12th-highest rate for the percentage of women older than 25 with a bachelor’s degree (58.47%).

7. Alexandria, VA

This suburb of Washington, D.C. has the fifth-highest percentage in the study of full-time working women earning at least $75,000 (50.83%). Full-time working women in Alexandria, Virginia also have the fifth-highest median salary, earning $75,803. Women in this city have the seventh-highest percentage for our education metric, with 65.94% of women older than 25 having earned a bachelor’s degree.

8. Pittsburgh, PA

Women in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania spend only 24.4% of their income on housing, the fifth-best ranking for this metric in the study. This city ranks 28th for women entrepreneurs, with 44.0% of all businesses owned by women. Pittsburgh places 46th out of 200 for education, as 43.78% of women older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree.

9. Scottsdale, AZ

The median earnings for women working full-time jobs in Scottsdale, Arizona is $60,723, the 20th-highest in the study. The city also has the 15th-highest education rate overall, with 57.25% of women older than 25 having earned a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, Scottsdale has the 19th-highest percentage of full-time working women earning at least $75,000 (37.14%).

10. Madison, WI

Almost half of the businesses in Wisconsin’s capital city are owned by women – at 49.5%, this is the 11th-highest ownership percentage in our study. Madison also ranks 11th for education, with 58.59% of women older than 25 having earned a bachelor’s degree. The city ranks 72nd out of 200 for the percentage of full-time working women earning at least $75,000, at 20.27%.

Data and Methodology

To find the cities where women are most successful, SmartAsset analyzed the 200 biggest U.S. cities in the country across the following five metrics:

  • Percentage of women with a bachelor’s degree. This is the percentage of women older than 25 who have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Median annual earnings for full-time working women. This amount is the median earnings for women who work full time.
  • Percentage of business owners who are women. This is the percentage of self-employed people who are women working in their own incorporated business.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of earnings for full-time working women. This is the median annual housing costs divided by the median earnings for full-time working women.
  • Percentage of full-time working women with earnings of at least $75,000. This is the percentage of full-time working women who earn $75,000 or more per year.

Data for all metrics comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each of the metrics. We then found the average ranking for each city, giving all metrics equal weight except for the percentage of full-time working women earning at least $75,000 per year, which was given a half weight. We then ranked each city by that weighted average. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.

Tips for Staying on Track to Financial Success

  • Consider seeking expert advice. Everyone, regardless of age, gender or income, could potentially benefit from professional financial help from a financial advisor. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with advisors that may be able to help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Don’t make taxes more taxing. Keep in mind that financial success may lead to an increased tax burden. Use SmartAsset’s free income tax calculator to see what you’ll owe Uncle Sam.
  • Think about homeownership carefully. Looking to put down roots in one of the above cities? You’ll want to start by looking for a home. Be honest with yourself about how much house you can afford so that you can plan your search accordingly.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com

Photo credit: © iStock/Mikolette

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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