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Study: Gender Gap in Major US Cities—Renting is Beyond the Reach of Most Single Women

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  • The median income of men is on average 35% bigger than that of women in the 50 largest US cities
  • Single women are locked out of rental housing in all but 2 of the 50 most populous cities, while men can afford to rent a studio or one-bedroom apartment on their own in 18
  • In 14 cities, singles’ median income is less than what’s needed to afford both renting and buying, regardless of gender

Beware, sensitive topic! The gender wage gap has been haunting us for generations, and it is affecting all of our lives—if not directly, then through the conflicts that it sparks every now and again. And it’s been discussed extensively: from the government to the media, from economists to sociologists pretty much everyone agrees that it’s a real, existing issue and something has to be done about it.

We at RentCafe believe in the power of simple facts, so we took to the public databases of the U.S. Census Bureau for median incomes broken down by gender in the 50 largest US cities. Sure enough, the results echoed what everyone has been saying: the wage gap is alive and well, and it’s still very much a man’s man’s world out there—but we also wanted to look at things from a real estate perspective and see where single men and women can afford to rent or buy a small home. To find out, we compared the incomes with the latest median rent data from our friends at Yardi Matrix, and sale prices courtesy of our sister company PropertyShark.

Overall, buying is more affordable for singles than renting

Click on the table to see the complete list with the largest US cities, and use the code below to embed it on your website:

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48 out of 50 cities out of reach for single women, male renters have a head start in 16

As you can see, it’s pretty depressing right out of the box. The comparison of the median male and female incomes showed that while men take home an average of $32,451 per year, women’s annual income averages at just $24,115 in the 50 most populous US cities, which is little over 74 cents on the dollar. All that was left was to transpose this difference into housing affordability terms, and for that we went with the industry’s standard that says housing costs should not take up more than 30% of one’s income. As we are talking about one person paying the rent/mortgage, anything larger than a studio or one-bedroom home was already eliminated at this point.

The rental market in particular really doesn’t look good for single women… Our analysis shows that single women can only afford to buy a small home in 26 cities, and renting alone is within their reach in only 2. That’s not a typo there, it really is two! Dos, zwei, deux—in whatever language you say it, it’s still a ridiculous number, especially if you compare it to the 18 cities where men can happily afford their very own bachelor’s flat, without earning above median or having to share their space with anyone.

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Wichita, KS and Tulsa, OK are the only markets where the median income of single women is enough to afford a small rental apartment, the reason being that these are the cities with the cheapest rentals nationwide. Step out of the Midwest and affordability goes into a nosedive. In Southwestern cities such as Albuquerque, Arlington, El Paso, Las Vegas, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson women are already priced out of rentals (unlike men)—both sexes can quite easily afford buying a small home, though. The same goes for Colorado Springs, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Omaha and Virginia Beach.

Take a look at this map, where we have displayed the cities in which the controversy is most palpable in the housing market. Move the slider to see where women’s median salary does not allow for buying or renting a home independently, but men’s does.

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Fort Worth and Memphis  share the prize for most unfair market, where the median male salary is enough to buy as well as to rent a home, while women cannot afford either on their own without placing a considerable burden on their incomes. If you pull the slider to the right, you’ll see an additional 14 cities where women fall short of the rental affordability threshold—although buying still remains an option for them. Slide it back all the way to the left and 7 other cities join the aforementioned two markets—in these only the male population can afford to buy, and only to buy.

For an in-depth analysis of the homebuying market, check out PropertyShark‘s story.

14 cities give the thumbs down to the single lifestyle—even men are locked out of housing

Gender Gap - 14 cities where neither women nor men can afford to live independently

So we’ve discussed the most controversial cities, but calling it a day would be a mistake, because there is something besides gender inequality that we cannot ignore: It looks like in 14 of the 50 largest US cities you can pretty much forget about renting or buying alone, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. This doesn’t put women in a better position though—they still earn less than men—, it just means everybody has to team up with somebody to afford even a small apartment, because both men’s and women’s salaries are rent burdened, and even mortgages take up more than 30% of their income.

So in case you were wondering whether renting or buying independently is the option worth choosing, there you have it: neither of them is, at least in these cities. Note that most of them are East and West Coast markets—with the exception of Austin and New Orleans. It’s also noteworthy that California singles are hit by far the hardest. Keep in mind that The Golden State has eight cities in the top 50, but the fact that six of them are completely unaffordable to singles (both in terms of renting and buying) is still a red flag, setting a high contrast to the rest of the nation.

Least affordable cities for singles

CityRent as % of Female incomeRent as % of Male incomeFemale - Median IncomeMale - Median Income
Boston, MA132%97%$25,784$35,246
Manhattan, NY111%81%$38,247$52,352
San Jose, CA101%66%$26,970$40,887
Oakland, CA98%76%$24,547$31,352
Los Angeles, CA98%76%$21,281$27,486
Miami, FL97%70%$15,267$21,149
San Francisco, CA92%68%$37,702$50,928
San Diego, CA79%54%$25,661$37,813
Chicago, IL76%59%$23,833$31,096
Long Beach, CA74%59%$24,397$30,843
Philadelphia, PA65%50%$20,610$26,888
Washington, DC60%46%$37,243$48,582
Portland, OR59%48%$26,296$32,326
Seattle, WA56%41%$36,822$50,173
Detroit, MI55%48%$15,041$17,434
Atlanta, GA55%40%$25,804$35,905
Sacramento, CA51%39%$23,187$30,352
Minneapolis, MN49%41%$26,888$31,897
Denver, CO48%40%$30,964$37,534
Fresno, CA48%38%$18,102$22,699
Baltimore, MD47%41%$24,521$28,418
Nashville, TN47%40%$26,511$31,472
Dallas, TX46%34%$22,400$30,246
New Orleans, LA45%38%$22,454$26,545
Houston, TX45%32%$21,271$30,377
Milwaukee, WI44%39%$21,353$24,187
San Antonio, TX44%32%$20,802$28,983
El Paso, TX44%26%$17,216$29,286
Charlotte, NC43%32%$26,357$35,261
Colorado Springs, CO43%27%$23,002$36,797
Austin, TX41%33%$29,975$37,316
Jacksonville, FL41%31%$23,136$31,311
Mesa, AZ41%29%$22,142$31,020
Virginia Beach, VA41%27%$27,220$40,849
Raleigh, NC39%31%$27,733$35,626
Fort Worth, TX39%27%$24,156$34,119
Las Vegas, NV38%29%$23,901$30,762
Arlington, TX38%29%$24,116$31,866
Tucson, AZ37%30%$18,426$22,811
Phoenix, AZ37%29%$23,645$30,149
Memphis, TN36%30%$20,330$24,394
Kansas City, MO36%26%$24,719$34,192
Indianapolis, IN35%26%$22,153$29,448
Albuquerque, NM34%26%$23,017$30,441
Omaha, NE34%25%$24,335$33,417
Columbus, OH33%27%$24,590$30,262
Oklahoma City, OK32%21%$22,100$33,867
Tulsa, OK30%22%$22,103$30,930
Wichita, KS28%17%$21,689$34,863
  • The income data used in this analysis represents the median personal income in each city broken down by gender, from the past 12 months, as represented in the US Census Bureau’s public database.
  • We analyzed the top 50 largest cities in the US by population, excluding St. Louis where we had incomplete data on rents and home prices.
  • The median market rents used for our calculations were provided by our sister company Yardi Matrix, an apartment market intelligence source which researches and reports on all multifamily properties containing 50 or more units across 124 markets in the United States, that are not part of a regulated affordable housing program and do not benefit from any government subsidies.
  • Home prices and home affordability calculations were provided by PropertyShark, based on median asking prices for starter homes (studios and one-bedrooms). Average monthly payments were calculated on the assumption of a standard 30-year mortgage, with a 20% down payment and a fixed yearly interest rate of 4%.
  • Affordability in the starter-home and apartment market was based on the industry standard that sets the upper limit on monthly payments at 30% of monthly income. Everything above this threshold was labeled unaffordable.

Fair use and redistribution

We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.

Balazs Szekely
Balazs Szekely
Balazs Szekely is a qualified journalist with extensive experience as a real estate writer for several Yardi publications, covering a wide range of market studies and real estate news. You can connect with Balazs via email.

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