U.S. Census data shows that women working full time in the United States are paid just 80% of what men earn. Though discrimination against women in the workplace is certainly a factor in pay discrepancy, pay inequity is a more complex issue. Among contributing factors to the pay gap are choice of college major, occupation, number of hours worked, and time out of the workforce for reasons such as childbirth.
The pay difference has narrowed since 1960 and legislation has played a key role. Congress in 1963 passed the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination in the workplace. Following amendments further helped narrow the gap. “ Public policy is an important part of increasing gender equality in the workplace and at home, but not all of it,” Mary Britton, sociology professor at Harvard University, said on the university’s website.
Other factors that have narrowed the pay difference include progress in women’s education and workforce participation, and men’s wages rising at a slower rate.
In a study by nonprofit women’s advocacy group the American Association of University Women, based on the rate of change between 1960 and 2016, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. In 30 U.S. states, the pay gap between men and women is more than 20%. Louisiana has the worst pay gap with women paid 69.4% of male earnings.
Women are not only more likely to be paid less than men, but also far more likely to live in poverty. Nationally 15.2% of women live at or below the poverty line, compared with 12.8% of men. In every state, a higher percentage of women live in poverty than men.
The states where the poverty rate gaps between the genders are the widest are Mississippi (22.8% vs. 18.7%), Kentucky (20.5% vs. 16.4%), and Louisiana (22.1% vs. 18.1%). In North Dakota, there was no poverty level difference between the genders. Even though New York ranks first on the list as the best state for women, 16.1% of women live in poverty, almost 3 percentage points higher than men.
While the Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates that most working mothers must be allowed 12 weeks maternity leave, a number of states have additional policies in place both for public employees and the private sector workforce. Many states extend the minimum number of weeks and allow women to use sick days for pre- and postnatal care.
Another state policy benefiting mothers is a taxpayer-funded pre-kindergarten program. Though in an equal society such a program should benefit fathers as much as mothers, many families retain traditional roles, with women as the primary caregiver staying at home to take care of the children. Therefore, such a program still benefits mothers significantly more as it allows them to rejoin the workforce. Seven states have no taxpayer-funded pre-K, and partially as a result rank among the worst for women in the country.
Female representation in government is also an important aspect of gender equality, and elected government positions are held primarily by men. Nearly half of all states have never had a female governor, and there are just six women governors in the United States. Women comprise an average of about 25% of state legislatures.
Another area of concern is the percentage of uninsured women in each state. There are 13 states where more than 10% of women under age 65 lack health insurance. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women at 17.9%.
Education has been the gateway to a more prosperous future for women. In all but four states, a higher percentage of women have a bachelor’s degrees than men. One of the exceptions is Utah, where 34.5% of men have a bachelor’s degree, almost 4 points higher than women, the biggest difference among the states.
“In the United States and a number of other countries, women now actually surpass men in educational achievement,” said Britton.
Utah is ranked as the worst state for women, replacing Mississippi. Utah was rated as the worst state for women in lists compiled in 2015 and 2014. Maryland tumbled to 17th place on the list from fourth in the last ranking.
New England states made the biggest moves in the top 10. Maine rose five places to ninth on the list, and Vermont gained three spots to fourth. New York surged to the top spot this year from second in the last, and after ranking 12th in 2014.
To determine the worst states for women, 24/7 Wall St. developed an index based on the Center for American Progress’ 2013 report, “The State of Women in America.” In its fifth year, our report utilizes the same methodology as previous years, making state rankings, and state improvements or declines relative to those reports, comparable.
We divided a range of variables into three major categories: economy, leadership, and health. Unless otherwise noted, all data are for 2016. Data in the economy category came from the U.S. Census Bureau and included male and female median earnings for full-time, year-round work as well as high school and bachelor’s degree educational attainment rates. The percentage of children enrolled in state pre-kindergarten and state spending per child enrolled in pre-kindergarten came from the National Institute for Early Education Research.
The leadership category includes data on the percentage of women in management occupations from the Census. It also includes the share of state and federal legislators who are women from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives Archives, respectively. From the National Governors Association, we also looked at states that currently have female governors. Data on political representation are current.
The health section incorporates Census data on the percentage of women who were uninsured. Female life expectancy figures come from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent health research center affiliated with the University of Washington. Additionally, we looked at infant mortality rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as maternal mortality rates from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. State policies relating to maternity leave, sick days, and time off come from the National Partnership for Women and Families.
State rankings on each of these measures were averaged to determine a score for each category. Possible scores ranged from 1 (best) to 50 (worst). The three category scores were averaged to create an indexed value that furnished our final ranking.