Americans’ relationship to work has changed dramatically in the three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The transition to remote and hybrid work arrangements has become commonplace throughout corporate America. The Great Resignation saw millions of people switch jobs and career paths in search of better pay or working conditions. And many Americans left the workforce altogether: the labor force participation rate today continues to lag its levels from early 2020.
These shifts have affected workers of all types, but women in particular have been navigating the new dynamics of work. More women these days are considering leaving their companies for more flexible arrangements like hybrid work. However, this choice can in some cases be disadvantageous—both for women, who may miss out on opportunities for career advancement, and for employers, who lose out on talent when female employees depart.
The share of women working full time has also been on the decline in the last few years. This figure had been growing steadily since 2011, reaching a peak of 45.8% in 2019 before falling to 44.1% two years later. One primary reason for the decline is that family caregiving responsibilities often fall on the shoulders of women. During the pandemic, when many schools were still using remote learning and child care was unreliable, those burdens increased, and many women left the workforce to care for children.
For women who have continued in the workforce, however, wage growth has accelerated in recent years. Inflation-adjusted wages for women working full time have been steadily increasing over the last decade. In 2012, women had a median inflation-adjusted wage of $43,074. That figure had increased to $46,196 by 2020, and in 2021 alone, women’s median wages jumped 6.6% to $49,263. Meanwhile, median wages for men saw a similar jump from $56,751 in 2020 to $60,428 in 2021—an increase of 6.5%. As a result, the wage gap between full-time female and male workers remained steady at approximately 18.5%.
This wage growth has taken place despite the fact that many of the occupations with the highest concentration of female workers pay relatively little compared to other professions. Health services and education jobs are overwhelmingly filled by women, and women are also overrepresented in clerical roles like administrative assistants, clerks, and legal support workers. While some occupations in these fields, like registered nurses, deliver good wages, many others pay below the national median. For example, more than nine in 10 preschool teachers are women, and they typically earn $30,210 per year.
Women’s earnings are stronger in certain parts of the country than others, and the mix of occupations may be one reason why. States in the Northeast and on the West Coast tend to have higher median earnings for women after adjusting for cost of living. These locales also have economies that offer more professional occupations that pay high wages. Massachusetts leads all states with a median cost-of-living-adjusted wage for full-time women of $62,443, while Florida’s wages are the lowest at $41,633.
At the local level as well, cities with more professional occupations in fields like business, technology, finance, and law tend to offer higher wages for women. A number of major metros in the Northeast and Western U.S. rank highly as the best-paying cities for women, including the nation-leading San Jose metro, where the median female worker earns nearly $75,000 per year. Additionally, these locations with higher median wages for women tend to also have smaller wage gaps between women and men.
The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. To determine the best-paying locations for women, researchers at Smartest Dollar calculated the median annual wage for women working full time, adjusted for the cost of living. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater unadjusted median annual wage for women working full time was ranked higher.
The analysis found that women working full time in Michigan earn an adjusted median wage of $49,775 annually, compared to the national median of $49,263.
Here is a summary of the data for Michigan:
Median annual wage for full-time women (adjusted): $49,775
Median annual wage for full-time women (actual): $46,914
Median annual wage for all full-time workers (adjusted): $52,459
Percentage of women that work full time: 40.1%
Cost of living (compared to average): -5.7%
For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:
- Median annual wage for full-time women (adjusted): $49,263
- Median annual wage for full-time women (actual): $49,263
- Median annual wage for all full-time workers (adjusted): $53,888
- Percentage of women that work full time: 44.1%
- Cost of living (compared to average): N/A
For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Smartest Dollar’s website: https://smartestdollar.com/research/best-paying-cities-for-women-in-2023