This October, California passed a pay equity law — one of the first of its kind — that expands the grounds on which women can challenge gender discrimination in the workplace. Similar legislation at the national level has been unsuccessful. Despite modest gains towards pay equality in recent years, women are still paid less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. In some states, the gaps are far worse.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed a range of economic, leadership, and health factors to identify the 10 worst states for women. Utah trails the nation as the state with the worst gender gaps, while Oregon has the smallest gender gaps overall.
Nationwide, a typical female earns $38,941 annually, nearly $10,000 less than the median annual salary of a typical male of $48,745. In no state do women have higher incomes than men. Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, noted that even millennial women, who tend to be more educated than their male peers, are paid less on average than millennial men.
According to Hartmann, job discrimination is one of the primary drivers of gender inequality, and this partly explains the differences between states. Women are far more likely to work in service oriented, health, financial, or education-related fields than in many other industries. In states where these fields dominate, “women will do better than they do in states that might be heavily dominated by mining or manufacturing or other forms of resource extraction like agriculture and forestry,” Hartmann said.
A number of the 10 worst states for women have higher-than-average shares of workers employed in traditionally-male dominated industries. In Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota, for example, construction and mining employ larger shares of the states’ employed populations than across the nation. Not only do men in these states dominate these industries and receive higher pay relative to women, but also they are paid more relative to men working in these industries nationwide.
A state may have relatively little control over the industry composition of its economy as this largely depends on the presence or absence of natural resources or other unique geographical features. However, a great deal of policy solutions are available to these states. Hartmann gave the example of investing in higher education, which has historically helped level the playing field for men and women.
Economic circumstances contribute to gender inequality. Women with bachelor’s degrees are twice as likely than less-educated new mothers to take paid family leave of some kind. On average, about half of women with no more than a high school diploma do not remain employed after having a child.
Part of the explanation for the gender pay gap may revolve around child rearing. Because women take more time off work for child care than men, they are also more likely to work fewer hours over the course of their careers than men. Many recognize that this particular explanation suggests gender disparities are due to choice alone, rather than discrimination. However, the lack of federal and state support for child care, which leads to women taking time off work or even quitting their jobs, is itself a feature of gender inequality.
Further, men have less access to paid parental leave than women, and this inequity is not favorable for women. According to a recent study released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Men may be subtly or not-so-subtly discouraged from taking time off to care for a new child, which can contribute to reproducing traditional conceptions of gender roles in society.”
The gender composition of a group of representatives ought to reflect the demographics of the constituency. As Hartmann noted, female members of both the Democratic and Republican parties are more likely to introduce legislation on behalf of women, and the absence of gender balance in the U.S. Congress may account for the lack of policies that might address gender disparities.
The percentage of seats occupied by women in all but three of the 10 state legislatures does not exceed the national share of 24.4% — itself a poor reflection of the U.S. constituency.
These are the worst states for women.