Based on a quality-of-life measurement known as the Human Development Index, women in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area are doing quite well. Exceptionally well, in fact.
Of the 25 most populous metropolitan areas in the United States, Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks fourth in terms of the well-being of its women, according to a report just released by researchers and statisticians working for Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council.
That places us right behind Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston, and right ahead of New York City.
At the bottom of the list: Houston, San Antonio and Riverside-San Bernardino.
“Women living in the top twenty-five metro areas account for a surprisingly large share of the overall U.S. population — one in every five Americans,” write the authors of the report. “Their well-being and access to opportunity is thus critical not just to them and their families but also to the prospects of our country as a whole.”
Three basic indicators
The Human Development Index, which was devised in 1990 by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq when he was working for the United Nations, uses three indicators to determine how well people are doing: “a long and healthy life” (life expectancy at birth), “access to knowledge” (years of schooling) and “a decent standard of living” (median personal income).
When it came to the health indicator, Minneapolis-St. Paul outperformed two of the three cities above it on the list (Washington, D.C., and Boston). Women in the Twin Cities have an average life expectancy at birth of 83.4 years, a year or so shy of the runaway leader in this category, San Francisco, where women’s life expectancy is 84.5 years.
But Minneapolis-St. Paul underperformed other top cities slightly with the other two indicators, education and income. Thus, the fourth-place slot.
Minneapolis-St. Paul did, however, do better than both Washington, D.C., and San Francisco in one of the educational sub-categories: the percentage of young women aged 25 to 34 who did not complete high school. According to the data used in this report (which came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), only 6.2 percent of Minnesota’s women in that age group are college dropouts.
Although the study found that “women living in most major metro areas are doing better than the typical American woman,” it also found that “not all urban and suburban women have the same choices and opportunities.” Race, ethnicity, age, marital status and other factors are also critical in determining women’s well-being.
Here are some examples from the report:
- Some of the largest lifespan gaps occur between racial and ethnic groups. Asian-American women (a broad category that includes people whose families originated in such diverse countries as Japan, Pakistan and the Philippines) have a life expectancy of 88.6 years, for example, while African-American women live, on average, 11 years less.
- Latina women outlive white women in the U.S. by an average of four years. “This holds true across every metro area in this study for which reliable estimates could be made,” the study reports. Yet Latina women are, on average, also more likely to live in poverty and to have attained a lower level of education than their white counterparts. These combined findings have created the phenomenon (observed elsewhere as well) known as the “Latino health paradox.” The report cites several possible explanations for this paradox, including the fact that fewer Latino women are smokers (9.3 percent compared to 15 percent of all U.S. women) and that Latino communities have “higher family cohesion and community support,” which “may play a protective role in terms of good health and longevity.”
- Life expectancy within racial and ethnic groups varies widely from city to city. African-American women living in Boston, for example, have a life expectancy of 80.2 years — more than five years longer than those living in Pittsburgh (75.0 years). The life expectancy for Pittsburgh’s African-American women is equivalent to that of women living in the developing countries of Honduras and Jamaica.
- Obesity is significantly more prevalent among African-American women (44.3 percent) than among all women (27.1 percent). As the report points out, this factor puts African-American women at greater risk for obesity-related health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Asian-American women are the least likely to be obese (7.9 percent). They also smoke less than other women: 3.6 percent are smokers compared with 15 percent of all American women. But there is considerable variation in health status within the Asian-American category. Filipina women, for example, are significantly more likely to have type 2 diabetes than other Asian-American or white women.