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Reverse gender pay gap? Young men are earning less than women in big cities

Young women are earning as much or more than their male counterparts in 22 U.S. cities, Pew Research found in a new research report. That could be a sign that educational gains by women and laws about pay transparency are helping to narrow the earnings gap between men and women — but it’s still far from the norm, experts say.

This “reverse pay gap” — where women are out-earning men — is an outlier, with women continuing to earn less than men in more than 90% of the roughly 250 cities analyzed by Pew Research Center senior researcher Richard Fry. Nationally, women who work full-time take home 82 cents for every $1 dollar earned by men with full-time jobs, Pew noted. (See the cities and wage differences below.)

It’s also notable that the study focuses on women under 30 years old. Economists have long noted that the gender pay gap tends to be smaller when women are younger — and that women typically fall behind their male counterparts as they get older. That’s often due to the “motherhood penalty” that women face when they have families.

In other words, the “reverse pay gap” in these 22 cities is a sign of some progress, but the problem of gender bias in pay is far from over, experts say. 

“Anytime we’re seeing a closing of the gender pay gap it’s cause for celebration, but we should be looking at this data with a caveat,” said Emily Sweet of the OPEN Imperative, a coalition of corporate executives and investors who have pledged to narrow the gender pay gap.

She added, “The gap persists for women in other parts of the country, particularly in smaller cities and in the Midwest in particular. And the closing of the gap is short-lived, and widens over the course of a woman’s career.”

About 1 in 6 young women who are working full-time live in the 22 cities where women are making as much as or more than men, Pew noted. 

Women who live in Midwestern cities experience the biggest gender wage gaps, earning about 90 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts, Pew said. By comparison, young women in other regions earn about 94 cents to every $1 earned by young men. 

The MBA pay gap

Women now make up about 60% of enrollment at colleges, but PayScale’s Amy Stewart, a senior content marketer and analyst, said that a college degree doesn’t always lead to pay equity. In fact, women tend to earn less compared with men the more educated they are, PayScale found in its annual gender pay gap report.

“We’ve found that the gender pay gap sees minimal or no improvement at higher education levels compared to a high school degree,” Stewart said in an email. “This is especially true for women with MBAs, who take home just $0.76 for every dollar that men with an MBA take home.”

Some of the cities where women are at parity or earning more than men are in states that have passed laws banning companies from asking about salary history, Stewart noted. “We know [that] is having an impact on closing pay gaps,” she noted. 

For instance, several of the cities where young women are earning more or the same as young men are in California, where employers cannot ask job applicants about their previous salaries. Women and people of color historically experience lower wages due to gender and racial bias, and when employers ask about salary history, these workers can get locked into lower-paying tracks.

Below are the 22 metropolitan areas, along with what young women earn for every dollar earned by young men. 

  1. Wenatchee, WA: $1.20
  2. Morgantown, WV: $1.14
  3. Barnstable Town, MA: $1.12
  4. Gainesville, FL: $1.10
  5. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL: $1.08
  6. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA: $1.05
  7. Yuba City, CA: $1.05
  8. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $1.02
  9. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $1.02
  10. San Angelo, TX: $1.02
  11. Champaign-Urbana, IL: $1.02
  12. Lebanon, PA: $1.02
  13. Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA: $1.01
  14. Winston-Salem, NC: $1.01
  15. Iowa City, IA: $1.01
  16. Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA: $1.01
  17. Flagstaff, AZ: $1.00
  18. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA: $1.00
  19. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA: $1.00
  20. Richmond, VA: $1.00
  21. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA: $1.00
  22. Urban Honolulu, HI: $1.00


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