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Women Only Outearn Their Partners in 26% of Coupled Households — Here Are the Metros With the Largest Percentage of Female Breadwinners

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America has seen a lot of change in recent years, but the gender pay gap has barely budged. Women continue to significantly underearn their male counterparts on average, a well-documented tendency that’s borne out by LendingTree’s most recent research.

In a study of opposite-sex coupled households across the 100 largest U.S. metros where data was available, research showed that women outearned their male partners only 25.9% of the time. Depending on the metro, that figure was as low as 15.1%.

“The gender pay gap is very real,” LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz says. “Women have long struggled to earn as much as men, even in the same roles, and that problem unfortunately isn’t going away anytime soon.”

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Key findings

  • Women in opposite-sex couples are far less likely to outearn their partners. Women only outearn their partners in about 1 in 4 (25.9%) coupled households, on average, across the 100 largest U.S. metros where data is available. Across the metros analyzed, the percentage of female breadwinners ranges from 15.1% to 31.7%.
  • New Haven, Conn., has the highest percentage of coupled households in which the woman is the higher earner. New Haven (31.7%) is followed by Memphis, Tenn. (30.5%) and Portland, Maine (29.8%). Eight of the 10 metros with the highest percentage of female breadwinners are in the Northeast.
  • Provo, Utah, has the lowest percentage of coupled households in which the woman is the higher earner. Provo (15.1%) is followed by Ogden, Utah (19.9%), and McAllen, Texas (21.2%). The South (six states) and West (four) occupy the entire bottom 10, with only four states represented: Utah, Texas, Florida and California.
  • When women outearn their partners, their average earnings are significantly higher than their male counterparts. In households where women earn more than their partners, they make an average of $70,372, while men in those same households make an average of $26,515.

Women only outearn their partners in 26% of coupled households

Our study looked at heterosexual coupled households, both married and unmarried, across the 100 largest U.S. metros where data was available. The results were grim but unsurprising: Women outearn their male partners only 25.9% of the time, on average, across those 100 metros.

But why?

“Some reasons for a pay gap are fairly simple,” says Schulz, “while others are more complex and troubling. For example, women are more likely than men to work in industries and occupations that are lower-paying, and to work reduced hours or part time, in part because of caregiving responsibilities and other obligations. However, it would be naive to think that discrimination and gender biases don’t play a significant role as well.”

While sociologists, economists and laypeople alike may argue about the many factors that coalesce to create the gender pay gap, its existence isn’t theoretical: According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, the rate at which women underearn men has remained relatively stable for the past 20 years. Fortunately, their research suggests the gap is narrowing among younger workers, which suggests that parity may eventually be achievable — especially as cultural and gendered expectations continue to shift.

Such expectations very likely have a bolstering effect on the gap.

“There are plenty of Americans, both men and women, who still feel that it’s the man’s place in a heterosexual coupled relationship to be the breadwinner,” Schulz says. “That’s not as prevalent today as it was in decades past, which I think is a good thing, but it would simply be wrong to think that there aren’t still millions of Americans who feel that way today.”

In the well-educated Northeast, women have a better chance of outearning men

The percentage of women breadwinners varied highly by metro, though in none we studied was the figure as high as a third. New Haven, Conn., boasts the highest percentage of female breadwinners at 31.7%, followed by Memphis, Tenn. (30.5%), and Portland, Maine (29.8%).

Metros with the highest percentage of female breadwinners

RankMetro% of female breadwinners
1New Haven, CT31.7%
2Memphis, TN30.5%
3Portland, ME29.8%
4Rochester, NY29.1%
5Hartford, CT29.0%
5Providence, RI29.0%
7Boston, MA28.9%
7Philadelphia, PA28.9%
7Worcester, MA28.9%
7Las Vegas, NV28.9%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2021 American Community Survey microdata via Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS).

While the causes behind the (relative) abundance of well-paid women in each metro are likely multifaceted, one key factor might be education. New Haven is home to Yale University, one of the most important parts of the city’s economy. Yale employs a faculty that is more than half female.

And while professor salaries vary widely, the mere presence of abundant educational opportunities might explain the higher earning potential of women in these areas. A lack of access to education due to factors like economic circumstance or domestic obligation is one of the engines thought to power the gender pay gap.

Eight of the 10 metros where women outearn male partners by the largest percentage are in the college-filled Northeast, including Boston (home to more than 60 colleges and universities including Harvard, MIT and Tufts), Providence, R.I. (home to Brown University) and Philadelphia (home to the University of Pennsylvania, among others).

In the South and West, the gender pay gap is alive and well

On the other end of the spectrum, metros in the South and West saw women underearning men in the vast majority of cases. In Provo, Utah, only 15.1% of heterosexual coupled households have a female breadwinner. Ogden, Utah, and McAllen, Texas, come next on the list at 19.9% and 21.2%, respectively. Across the bottom 10, only four states are represented: California, Florida, Texas and Utah.

Metros with the lowest percentage of female breadwinners

RankMetro% of female breadwinners
1Provo, UT15.1%
2Ogden, UT19.9%
3McAllen, TX21.2%
4Deltona, FL22.0%
4Cape Coral, FL22.0%
6El Paso, TX22.2%
6Palm Bay, FL22.2%
6Bakersfield, CA22.2%
9North Port, FL22.5%
10Salt Lake City, UT22.6%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2021 American Community Survey microdata via IPUMS.

While, again, multiple factors must be called on to explain this dynamic, it seems likely that the high concentration of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah’s urban centers would explain some of this disparity. In such communities, women have long been expected to forgo employment outside the home to focus on child-rearing. Of the 10 metros with the lowest percentage of women breadwinners, three are in Utah.

Additionally, the metros represented in Florida, California and Texas are smaller areas outside of major population centers where more traditional family values might continue to hold — and where fewer people have attained higher education. In McAllen, for example, less than a third of the population holds a bachelor’s degree, according to Census data, which also tells us that only 793 of the 3,873 employer firms in 2017 were women-owned.

Full rankings

Metros with the highest percentage of female breadwinners

RankMetro% of female breadwinners
1New Haven, CT31.7%
2Memphis, TN30.5%
3Portland, ME29.8%
4Rochester, NY29.1%
5Hartford, CT29.0%
5Providence, RI29.0%
7Boston, MA28.9%
7Philadelphia, PA28.9%
7Worcester, MA28.9%
7Las Vegas, NV28.9%
11Dayton, OH28.7%
12Springfield, MA28.6%
13Minneapolis, MN28.3%
14New York, NY28.1%
14Buffalo, NY28.1%
16Richmond, VA28.0%
17Syracuse, NY27.9%
17Kansas City, KS27.9%
19Milwaukee, WI27.8%
20Jackson, MS27.7%
21Little Rock, AR27.6%
22Albany, NY27.5%
22Cleveland, OH27.5%
24Jacksonville, FL27.4%
24Denver, CO27.4%
24Boise, ID27.4%
24Columbus, OH27.4%
28Cincinnati, OH27.3%
28Orlando, FL27.3%
28Washington, DC27.3%
31Albuquerque, NM27.2%
31Allentown, PA27.2%
33Scranton, PA27.1%
33Baltimore, MD27.1%
35St. Louis, MO26.8%
35Omaha, NE26.8%
35Oklahoma City, OK26.8%
35Toledo, OH26.8%
39Portland, OR26.7%
39Atlanta, GA26.7%
39Columbia, SC26.7%
39Akron, OH26.7%
43Lancaster, PA26.6%
43Fresno, CA26.6%
43Chattanooga, TN26.6%
43Honolulu, HI26.6%
43Bridgeport, CT26.6%
48Chicago, IL26.5%
48Indianapolis, IN26.5%
50Nashville, TN26.4%
50Wichita, KS26.4%
50Sacramento, CA26.4%
53Los Angeles, CA26.3%
54Birmingham, AL26.1%
55Pittsburgh, PA26.0%
55Virginia Beach, VA26.0%
55San Francisco, CA26.0%
58Louisville, KY25.9%
58Tampa, FL25.9%
60Harrisburg, PA25.8%
61Austin, TX25.7%
61Seattle, WA25.7%
63San Diego, CA25.6%
64Winston-Salem, NC25.5%
65Knoxville, TN25.3%
65San Antonio, TX25.3%
67Miami, FL25.2%
67Tucson, AZ25.2%
69Des Moines, IA25.1%
70Charlotte, NC25.0%
70Spokane, WA25.0%
72Raleigh, NC24.6%
73Greenville, SC24.5%
74Colorado Springs, CO24.4%
75Dallas, TX24.3%
75Greensboro, NC24.3%
75New Orleans, LA24.3%
78Lakeland, FL24.2%
78Phoenix, AZ24.2%
78Augusta, GA24.2%
78Oxnard, CA24.2%
82Fayetteville, AR24.1%
83Charleston, SC24.0%
84Grand Rapids, MI23.7%
84Houston, TX23.7%
86Baton Rouge, LA23.4%
86Detroit, MI23.4%
88Stockton, CA23.2%
88San Jose, CA23.2%
90Riverside, CA22.7%
91Salt Lake City, UT22.6%
92North Port, FL22.5%
93Bakersfield, CA22.2%
93Palm Bay, FL22.2%
93El Paso, TX22.2%
96Cape Coral, FL22.0%
96Deltona, FL22.0%
98McAllen, TX21.2%
99Ogden, UT19.9%
100Provo, UT15.1%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2021 American Community Survey microdata via IPUMS.

When women do outearn their partners, their earnings are significantly higher

Although women are far less likely to outearn their partners than men, they tend to earn much more when they do. In such households across the 100 largest metros with available data, women make an average of $70,372. Meanwhile, men in those same households make a mere $26,515, on average.

Average earnings when women outearn partners

MetroAverage earnings of coupled women who earn more than their partnersAverage earnings of men in those couples where women outearn them
Akron, OH$64,764$23,304
Albany, NY$74,002$30,198
Albuquerque, NM$65,015$24,547
Allentown, PA$63,486$22,214
Atlanta, GA$78,150$28,630
Augusta, GA$56,734$22,431
Austin, TX$76,749$30,997
Bakersfield, CA$54,970$18,798
Baltimore, MD$91,485$36,055
Baton Rouge, LA$60,422$24,298
Birmingham, AL$64,604$23,557
Boise, ID$60,077$18,717
Boston, MA$96,872$38,006
Bridgeport, CT$112,387$37,009
Buffalo, NY$67,305$26,064
Cape Coral, FL$56,390$16,703
Charleston, SC$67,405$25,385
Charlotte, NC$76,354$29,923
Chattanooga, TN$63,685$24,823
Chicago, IL$81,941$31,070
Cincinnati, OH$75,038$27,208
Cleveland, OH$68,293$26,563
Colorado Springs, CO$68,190$25,311
Columbia, SC$60,734$22,426
Columbus, OH$72,816$31,031
Dallas, TX$76,228$29,504
Dayton, OH$66,113$26,016
Deltona, FL$58,475$16,721
Denver, CO$88,164$34,971
Des Moines, IA$68,102$33,411
Detroit, MI$67,893$26,060
El Paso, TX$50,052$17,338
Fayetteville, AR$66,454$24,873
Fresno, CA$64,963$24,513
Grand Rapids, MI$69,233$27,004
Greensboro, NC$61,773$20,630
Greenville, SC$58,875$20,444
Harrisburg, PA$63,452$25,176
Hartford, CT$77,720$32,624
Honolulu, HI$67,126$25,323
Houston, TX$71,773$26,837
Indianapolis, IN$69,446$26,971
Jackson, MS$61,101$21,265
Jacksonville, FL$69,078$26,930
Kansas City, KS$68,321$27,013
Knoxville, TN$63,411$23,282
Lakeland, FL$52,944$20,462
Lancaster, PA$62,608$24,546
Las Vegas, NV$59,300$20,705
Little Rock, AR$62,836$19,371
Los Angeles, CA$82,008$28,715
Louisville, KY$67,838$25,727
McAllen, TX$42,775$15,074
Memphis, TN$66,845$23,287
Miami, FL$68,563$23,197
Milwaukee, WI$68,490$28,404
Minneapolis, MN$83,993$34,136
Nashville, TN$72,962$27,007
New Haven, CT$87,526$31,160
New Orleans, LA$65,164$22,637
New York, NY$90,832$31,558
North Port, FL$62,333$20,661
Ogden, UT$67,958$28,580
Oklahoma City, OK$58,486$22,728
Omaha, NE$71,150$28,755
Orlando, FL$64,381$23,422
Oxnard, CA$79,129$27,669
Palm Bay, FL$52,919$19,918
Philadelphia, PA$81,041$31,993
Phoenix, AZ$68,947$25,299
Pittsburgh, PA$70,279$28,408
Portland, ME$70,124$24,013
Portland, OR$80,375$30,448
Providence, RI$72,626$24,393
Provo, UT$51,179$22,728
Raleigh, NC$77,628$33,227
Richmond, VA$74,535$29,180
Riverside, CA$65,198$22,840
Rochester, NY$60,530$24,948
Sacramento, CA$78,143$28,747
Salt Lake City, UT$71,330$30,247
San Antonio, TX$63,082$23,083
San Diego, CA$81,949$30,986
San Francisco, CA$119,936$44,604
San Jose, CA$134,875$50,796
Scranton, PA$60,030$22,771
Seattle, WA$95,058$37,724
Spokane, WA$62,507$21,406
Springfield, MA$67,566$24,610
St. Louis, MO$70,883$28,867
Stockton, CA$77,343$23,793
Syracuse, NY$59,158$24,243
Tampa, FL$67,687$23,563
Toledo, OH$61,616$24,177
Tucson, AZ$54,540$19,669
Virginia Beach, VA$66,283$27,451
Washington, DC$106,617$44,030
Wichita, KS$51,790$21,132
Winston-Salem, NC$63,222$22,169
Worcester, MA$74,469$30,036

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2021 American Community Survey microdata via IPUMS. Note: Metros are listed alphabetically.

Although it’s 88th on the list of metros where women outearn their male partners, San Jose, Calif., is where the women who do outearn their partners make the most: $134,875, on average, compared with underearning men’s $50,796.

This is likely due to the impact of Silicon Valley, where salaries skyrocket for engineers and others working in big tech — after all, San Francisco boasts the second-highest average earnings for breadwinning women at $119,936. Other metros where female breadwinners see six-figure earnings on average include Bridgeport, Conn. ($112,387), and Washington, D.C. ($106,617).

On the other end of the spectrum, McAllen is the metro where women who outearn their partners make the least: $42,775, on average. Meanwhile, the men in such households make only $15,074.

4 things to consider when you outearn your partner

Regardless of your gender, outearning your live-in partner can put you in a somewhat precarious situation, both financially and romantically. Keeping these key tips in mind can help.

  • Communication is key. That’s true in any relationship, but especially one in which you’re sharing a bank account. “Whether it’s the higher-earning or the lower-earning partner who’s struggling with some aspect of the relationship,” says Schulz, “the ability to speak openly and honestly about their feelings is essential. If you can’t do that, resentment, bitterness and anger can grow and eat away at the relationship. That’s part of why money is often the biggest source of friction.”
  • Everyone’s financial picture looks different. In a breadwinner relationship, it’s important to remember that “equitable” and “equal” don’t mean quite the same thing. Even if one partner is carrying both people financially — or even paying off the other’s debt — the other partner may be contributing in other ways, like housework or child care, to make the arrangement fair for everyone involved. It’s all about what works for you.
  • No matter how much you make, you can follow some financial best practices. Basic financial rules of thumb like creating a budget, saving up an emergency fund and avoiding credit card debt apply to everyone, regardless of whether they’re making more or less than their partner. Of course, in dedicated partnerships where one person is relying on the other financially, these goals and strategies have to be a team effort — which is why communication is the first item on this list.
  • Money isn’t the only way to show your love. According to another recent LendingTree study, consumers in relationships planned to spend $187, on average, on Valentine’s Day gifts. But the gifts that Valentines most desired — a special meal, a card or candy — definitely cost less than that, and there are plenty of ways to show your love completely free of charge.

Methodology

LendingTree researchers analyzed U.S. Census Bureau 2021 American Community Survey microdata via Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) to calculate the percentage of opposite-sex coupled households — married and unmarried — where a female partner had a higher income than their male counterparts across the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas where data was available.

We also calculated the average earnings among women and men in these households where the female partner earned more.

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