Median income for a typical Bay Area household generally increased at a steady rate over the past decade.
Household incomes have risen and fallen in sync with the expansion and contraction of the region’s economy over the past four decades. As the region experienced economic growth between 2010 and 2020, median household income grew by 15% after adjusting for inflation. While household income declined at the beginning of the 2010s due to continued impacts of the Great Recession, between 2012 and 2019 inflation-adjusted median household income grew at an average rate of 3% annually. Amidst the immense economic and societal challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, median household income dropped sharply from 2019 to 2020, but subsequently recovered somewhat from 2020 to 2021.
The median Bay Area worker made $66,980 in 2021
Historical Trend For Median Income
The gap between high- and low-income households has widened over time.
While inflation-adjusted median household income increased by 25% between 1970 and 2021, a different story is told when examining income trends by percentile. In fact, the income gap between high- and low-income households has widened. Over the past five decades through 2021, inflation-adjusted incomes for the lowest-income households shrank by 14%, while the highest-income households saw their incomes grow by 34%. While median income decreased for all household income groups between 2019 and 2020 due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bottom 20% of earners saw the largest decrease with a 6% decline, while the top 20% of earners saw a decline of only 3%.
This widening income gap is especially evident in San Francisco, where households at the 60th and 80th percentile for income have experienced the region’s largest income growth from 1970 to 2021, while the median income for households at the 20th percentile has decreased. In 2021, household income at the 80th percentile in San Francisco exceeded $218,000, while household income at the 20th percentile remained the lowest in the region at $35,000. This disparity may be attributed in part to the city’s affordable housing policies, which have made it possible for some of the lowest-income residents living in subsidized or rent stabilized residences to stay. Meanwhile, low- and middle-income earners in other counties who lack subsidized housing, rent stabilization and/or strong tenant protections may have moved to less expensive parts of the region or left the Bay Area.
From 1970 to, the incomes of the top 20% of Bay Area households grew by 34%
From 1970 to 2021, the incomes of the bottom 20% of Bay Area households shrank by 14%
Historical Trend for Household Income by Quintile
The region’s highest-income households continue to be concentrated in Silicon Valley.
Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have the highest household incomes among Bay Area counties. Median household incomes in 2021 for these counties were approximately $141,600 and $131,800 — approximately $40,000 greater than median household incomes in the region’s two lowest-income counties of Solano and Sonoma. The concentration of high-income households in Silicon Valley is also reflected in the city-level data, with many of the wealthiest cities in the Bay Area located in Silicon Valley. Median household income in 2021 for all of the top 10 cities is above $240,000.
Growth in household income over the past 50 years varies greatly across the region. Of the top 10 cities with greatest growth in inflation-adjusted household income, most are in Silicon Valley. For these top 10 cities, the inflation-adjusted median household income has grown by more than 60% from 1970 to 2021. The County of San Francisco is the county with the largest growth in median household income from 1970 to 2020, with an inflation-adjusted growth of 41%. In contrast, median household income in Marin County has remained relatively stable, growing by only 5% from 1970 to 2021 after adjusting for inflation.
In 2021, the median household income in Santa Clara County was $141,600, the highest of any Bay Area county
Median Household Income by Neighborhood (2021)
In 2021, the Bay Area had the highest household income levels compared to other major metro areas in the country.
Washington, D.C. is the only major metro area in the country with a median household income comparable to the Bay Area. In contrast, the typical Bay Area household has an income nearly double that of a typical household in the Miami metro area, reflecting a significant income gap between the nation’s major urban regions. While the inflation-adjusted median household income has grown by 25% in the Bay Area from 1970 to 2021, household income in the Miami metro area decreased by 7% during the same period after adjusting for inflation.
In 2021, the median household income in Washington, DC was $112,500
Metro Comparison for Median Income
Sources & Methodology
Income derived from the decennial Census data reflects the income earned in the prior calendar year, whereas income derived from the American Community Survey (ACS) data reflects the prior 12 month period; note that this inconsistency has a minor effect on historical comparisons (see Income and Earnings Data section of the ACS General Handbook). ACS 1-year data is used for larger geographies – Bay counties and most metropolitan area counties – while smaller geographies rely upon 5-year rolling average data due to their smaller sample sizes. Note that 2020 data uses the 5-year estimates because the ACS did not collect 1-year data for 2020.
Quintile income for 1970-2000 is imputed from decennial Census data using methodology from the California Department of Finance. Bay Area income is the population weighted average of county-level income.
Income has been inflated using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for 2021 specific to each metro area; however, some metro areas lack metro-specific CPI data back to 1970 and therefore adjusted data uses national CPI for 1970. Note that current MSA boundaries were used for historical comparison by identifying counties included in today’s metro areas.
U.S. Census Bureau: Decennial Census
Count 4Pb (1970)
Form STF3 (1980-1990)
Form SF3a (2000)
U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey
Form B19001 (2005-2021; household income by place of residence)
Form B19013 (2005-2021; median household income by place of residence)
Form B08521 (2005-2021; median worker earnings by place of employment)
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Price Index
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash