California ranks among the states with the highest cost of living in the country, behind only New York and Hawaii, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s cost-of-living index. At the same time, California boasts one of the highest median household incomes out of all 50 states. The median is the middle value in a list ordered from smallest to largest.
Quite a few cities in California have mean, or average, household incomes that exceed $250,000. But California is not without major variations in incomes, with many households earning far below the median household income in both California and the U.S.
To get a closer look at incomes in the state, we looked at California median household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates (the most recent year available). Household incomes in California were analyzed in terms of age, gender, race and ethnicity and geography — on the city level and ZIP code level, for instance.
Read on to discover some key findings on median household income in California.
Key findings on median household income in California
The median household income in California for 2020 is $78,672, up from $75,235 in 2019. When examining household incomes in California, the different types of households have different levels of median household income. For instance, the Census Bureau breaks households out into four types: (1) households, (2) family households, (3) married-couple family households, and (4) non-family households. Adding the number of non-family households together with family households equals the total number of households. See the table below:
|Income||Total number of households||Number of family households||Number of married-couple family households||Number of non-family households|
|Less than $10,000||4.7%||3.1%||1.4%||9.5%|
|$10,000 to $14,999||3.9%||2.1%||1.1%||8.4%|
|$15,000 to $24,999||6.9%||5.6%||3.8%||10.9%|
|$25,000 to $34,999||7.10%||6.4%||4.8%||9.3%|
|$35,000 to $49,999||10%||9.7%||8%||11.3%|
|$50,000 to $74,999||15.3%||15.2%||13.9%||15.6%|
|$75,000 to $99,999||12.3%||12.8%||13%||10.8%|
|$100,000 to $149,999||17.1%||18.7%||20.8%||12.4%|
|$150,000 to $199,999||9.4%||10.8%||13%||5.4%|
|$200,000 or more||13.3%||15.7%||20.1%||6.6%|
|Median income (dollars)||$78,672||$89,798||$107,711||$50,894|
|Mean income (dollars)||$111,622||$124,332||$144,339||$76,668|
As you can see from the table, married-couple family households have the highest median household income at $107,711, about $30,000 more than the median household income for all households. Non-family households have the lowest, with a median household income of $50,894.
In California, 17.1% of households earn incomes of $100,000 to $149,999, with 15.3% earning $50,000 to $74,999 and 13.3% earning $200,000 or more. Among married-couple family households, more than a fifth (20.8%) report household incomes of $100,000 to $149,999, with another fifth (20.1%) earning $200,000 or more.
When comparing median household incomes to the mean, or average, household incomes, the distorting effects of higher-income households can be seen. The mean household income in California is $111,622 — $32,950 more than the median household income of $78,672.
Median household income throughout California
Looking at the geographic distribution of median household income in California — specifically in cities with at least 20,000 households — reveals that the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley have some of the highest median household incomes in the state. The cities with the highest median household incomes — Cupertino, Palo Alto, San Ramon, Pleasanton and Dublin — are all in the Bay Area or Silicon Valley.
Median yearly household income in California
Over the last 10 years, California’s median household income has grown by almost $20,000. Back in 2010, the median household income in California was $60,883; as of 2020, the state’s median household income is $78,672. Below you’ll find a table displaying the median household income in California by year, back to 2010:
|Year||Median household income|
Over the last 10 years, California’s median household income has risen by roughly 29.2%. The biggest year-over-year growth occurred from 2017 to 2018, when the median household income rose by 6%, from $67,169 to $71,228.
Most years saw an increase in median household income from the previous year, with two notable exceptions. From 2011 to 2012, California’s median household income declined from $61,632 to $61,400. And from 2012 to 2013, the median household declined again, from $61,400 to $61,094. Since 2013, California’s median household income has steadily increased year on year.
California cities with the highest median income
Of all cities in California — not just those with more than 20,000 households —18 cities have median household incomes of more than $250,000. The Census Bureau only tracks median household incomes up to what it labels “$250,000+.” Below is a table of the 20 cities in California with the highest median household incomes.
|City||Median household income, 2020||Mean household income, 2020|
|Los Altos Hills||$250,000+||$415,970|
|Emerald Lake Hills||$250,000+||$370,101|
Some notable geographic patterns emerge when looking at the cities with the highest median household incomes in California. Out of these 20 cities, 17 lie within the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area, as defined by the Census Bureau. The other three cities — Rolling Hills, Hidden Hills and Lake Sherwood — are located outside Los Angeles.
Many of these high-income cities are small. For instance, the No. 1 city with the highest median and mean household income, Nicasio, has only 34 households. Norris Canyon has the highest share of households with incomes of $200,000 or more, with 76.2% of households fitting this description.
California cities with the lowest median income
On the other end of the spectrum, four cities in California have median household incomes of less than $2,500. As with high incomes, the Census Bureau only tracks median household incomes down to what it labels “$2,500-.” Below is a table of the 20 cities in California with the lowest median household incomes.
|City||Median household income, 2020||Mean household income, 2020|
|Dos Palos Y||$16,474||$24,104|
|University of California-Davis||$21,230||$37,812|
As with the cities with the highest median household incomes, the cities with the lowest incomes are typically very small. For example, Niland has a total of 393 households while McClenney Tract has just 20 households. The annotation value “N” indicates that data for this city cannot be displayed because the number of sample cases is too small. Out of these 20 cities, Isla Vista is the largest, with 4,661 households.
Median household income in California by age and gender
Household incomes tend to increase with the age of the head of household, yet only up to a point. According to Census Bureau data, median household income peaks among householders ages 45 to 64 years old, at $92,828. From here, incomes decline for older Californians, with those ages 65 and older having a median household income of $57,034. The table below shows the median household incomes for four age groups:
|Age of householder||Median household income, 2020|
|Householder under 25 years||$41,045|
|Householder 25 to 44 years||$84,076|
|Householder 45 to 64 years||$92,828|
|Householder 65 years and over||$57,034|
Looking at incomes over time, householders under age 25 have experienced the largest increase — from a median of $29,406 in 2015 to $41,045 in 2020, a 39.6% rise. In terms of income, householders under age 25 report the lowest median household income: $41,045. They are followed by householders ages 65 and older who have the second-lowest median household income. Householders of ages 25 to 44 have the second-highest median household income at $84,076.
The Census Bureau categorizes median household income data by gender only in terms of non-family households on the state level. The best way to look at incomes of male and female California residents is to use figures that the Census Bureau labels as “median earnings.” The table below lays out the data available for income by gender:
|Gender||Median earnings, 2020|
|Gender||Median household income, 2020|
|Female householder, non-family household||$43,687|
|Male householder, non-family household||$58,781|
Median household income in California by race
Household incomes in California vary considerably by race and ethnicity. When California households are broken down by race and ethnicity, median household incomes range from $54,976 to $101,380. The table below shows the median household incomes for the race and ethnicities tracked by the Census Bureau:
|Race and/or ethnicity||Median household income, 2020|
|Households with a householder who is Asian||$101,380|
|Households with a householder who is white||$82,157|
|Households with a householder who is Black or African American||$54,976|
|Households with a householder who is American Indian and Alaska native||$60,182|
|Households with a householder who is Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander||$81,682|
|Households with a householder who is Hispanic or Latino||$62,330|
Households with a householder who is Asian have the highest median household income, followed by householders who are white, and then by householders who are Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Households with a householder who is Black or African American report the lowest median household income, followed by American Indian and Alaska Native households, and then Hispanic or Latino households.
Median household income by ZIP code in California
ZIP codes are used by the U.S. Postal Service for organizing the country into manageable areas for mail delivery. When looking at median household income by ZIP code in California, seven ZIP codes have median household incomes in excess of $250,000. Below is a table including the top-10 ZIP codes in California with the highest median household incomes:
|ZIP code||City||Total households||Median household income, 2020|
Nine of the 10 highest-income ZIP codes are located in the San Francisco Bay Area or Silicon Valley. The one exception is ZIP code 92145, which is located in San Diego.
Looking at the lowest-income ZIP codes in California, one has a median household income of less than $2,500 – 95559 in Phillipsville. These 10 ZIP codes have median household incomes ranging from less than $2,500 to $21,875, which are significantly lower than the California median household income of $78,672 for 2020. Here are the 10 ZIP codes with the lowest median household incomes:
|ZIP code||City||Total households||Median household income, 2020|
|93207||California Hot Springs||100||$20,500|
Several of the ZIP codes with the lowest median household incomes are located in more rural areas of Northern California, such as Phillipsville, Mad River, Challenge and Leggett. Notable exceptions to this include ZIP codes 95202 in Stockton as well as 90013 and 90021 in Los Angeles.
Average household income by income level
The Census Bureau does not classify incomes by poor, lower-income, middle-class or upper-class, which are more subjective labels. It does, however, break incomes down by quintiles: lowest fifth, second fifth, middle fifth, fourth fifth and highest fifth. These fifths cover the lowest 20%, the 20th to 40th percentile, the 40th to 60th percentile, the 60th and 80th percentile, and the top 20%, respectively. Below is a table displaying the mean household incomes for each income level:
|Income level||Mean household income, 2020|
|Lowest quintile (0-20%)||$16,524|
|Second quintile (20%-40%)||$45,945|
|Third quintile (40%-60%)||$79,137|
|Fourth quintile (60%-80%)||$126,213|
|Highest quintile (80%-100%)||$290,289|
Over the last five years, incomes of the top 5% of households have grown the most — by 28.9% since 2015. Close behind the growth of the top 5% is the second quintile of households, whose mean household income grew by 28.2%, from $35,837 in 2015 to $45,945 in 2020. The lowest quintile of households witnessed the smallest growth, at 24.4% from 2015 to 2020.
FAQs about median household income in California
Median vs. average income
The median is the middle number in a data set. The average, or mean, is found by adding all the numbers in a set and then dividing the sum by the total number of individual values in a set. When you have a skewed data set, like household income, the median is a better measure than the mean — mean incomes can be distorted by high income households, which pull the mean higher.
What is the average yearly income in California?
The mean annual household income in California for 2020 is $111,622. The median household income for 2020 in California is $78,672.
What salary is considered ‘upper class’ in California?
Though the Census Bureau doesn’t categorize incomes by “upper class,” the categorization of households into quintiles, or fifths, can be helpful. For example, the highest quintile, or top 20% of households, have a mean household income of $290,289.
Is $160k a good salary in San Francisco?
An income of $160,000 is significantly higher than California’s median household income of $78,672. It’s also higher than the median household income of $119,136 in San Francisco. That said, the average household income — the mean household income — in San Francisco is $167,663. Thus, $160,000 is a solid income for San Francisco, but it is still subject to the city’s notoriously high cost of living.
What is the ‘middle class’ average household income in California?
“Middle class” isn’t something tracked by the Census Bureau. However, if we treat the third quintile of household incomes (40% to 60% of households) as “middle class,” then the average household income is $79,137.
Is $100k good money in California?
Earning $100,000 in California would put you above the state’s median household income of $78,672. In that regard, $100,000 is good money in California. But remember that median household incomes in some major California cities like San Francisco ($119,136) and San Jose ($117,324) are higher than $100,000. Depending on which city you live in, $100,000 may or may not be a sufficient income.
- U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2016-2020 5-Year