The Best States for Women

These days, people are more aware than ever of the need for greater gender equality and, while things are certainly getting better, we still have a long way to go. The United States, for instance, has made a lot of progress (particularly in the last decade), although there is still a lot of inequality across the country.

But which parts of America are the closest to reaching equality? We compiled a variety of data points in order to discover which states offer women the most help and opportunity. Plenty of factors were inspected, including:

• Average earnings for women
• The size of the gender pay gap
• The rate at which each state’s gender pay gap is shrinking
• Percentage of female state legislators
• College graduation rate
• Percentage of women-owned firms
• Level of feminine hygiene tax
• Level of maternity leave allowances

Which state do you think will fare best, and which will rank the worst? Read on to find out more…

The range of results across the states for the average annual earnings of women is incredibly large. For instance, there is a difference of over $20k between Massachusetts (1st) and Mississippi (50th). The results also seem far more spread out in the top ten than the bottom ten: in the former there’s a difference of $8.5k between 1st and 10th, while in the latter the difference between 41st and 50th is only $3k.

The gender pay gap is still an important issue. Not one state has reached parity yet, although some states are closer than others. At the top of the rankings, California settles comfortably into 1st place, over 1% ahead of New York in 2nd.

Meanwhile, Louisiana’s gender pay gap is by far the largest, being 2.5% larger than Utah in 49th place.

Interestingly, there is a lot of overlap between the states in the gender pay gap bottom ten and the states in the average annual earnings bottom ten. However, there is much less similarity between the two respective top tens.

We felt it would also be worth finding out how the gender pay gap is expected to change in each state, and how quickly each state is expected to reach equality. As you can see, most states fall within a range of 70 years. The only exception to this is Wyoming in last place – if the often-nicknamed ‘Equality State’ continues at its current rate in terms of reducing its gender pay gap, it will take over 50 years longer than Louisiana in 49th!

The number of female legislators in each state is also relevant to the study. Having a higher level of representation in government could make a real difference to laws in the future; it’s also a decent indicator of current levels of equality.

Nevada finishes in 1st place, being the only state in which over half of its legislators are women! This represents a landmark milestone in US history. At the other end of the rankings, Mississippi fares poorly once again, coming in last place for the second time. Wyoming also makes an appearance near the bottom of the rankings, finishing in a lowly 48th.

The states in the bottom ten have some truly disappointing graduation rates. Unfortunately, this isn’t just the case for women – as you can see, graduation rates for men in these states are even worse. Many consider the cause for this to be that a lot of people simply can’t afford to live as students and are forced to drop out of college early in order to enter full-time employment.

It should be noted that the male graduation rate has been included in the table as a point of reference. However, the state ranking is based purely on the female graduation rate.

When it comes to the number of women-owned firms in each state, there isn’t a huge difference between the top and bottom ten. For instance, Florida’s percentage of women-owned firms against men-owned firms is only 9% higher than Pennsylvania, despite the former coming 1st and the latter coming 50th overall.

Florida came 1st thanks to a combined high ranking in terms of women- versus men-owned firms and women-owned firms versus total population (it had the highest percentage for the latter metric).

Not one state has an equal number of firms being owned by men and women – the closest is New Mexico, where 45% of firms are women-owned. New Hampshire came 5th in this regard, with only one third of firms owned by women.

It’s hard to deny that every state in the USA could do more to look after its new mothers, both before and after their child arrives. However, some states are definitely doing more than others. A study by the National Partnership for Women & Families graded each state on how much its laws help expecting and new parents (found here). They compared the states on their treatment of public versus private sector workers, the amount of medical and family leave offered to workers, level of job protection, accommodations and more.

The fact that only one state received an A grade while 12 states received an F grade gives you a good idea of the general feeling of the study. Interestingly, the highest-graded states are mainly northern states, while the majority of the lowest-graded states are from the south.

Up to this point, California has been a consistently high ranking state (excluding its middling ranks for state legislators and college graduation rate). However, the Golden State plummeted with its taxes on feminine hygiene products, coming in dead last with a tax of 7.25%.

At the top of the table, we can see that 15 US states don’t actually levy any tax on feminine hygiene products – hopefully we’ll see this number grow in the near future. Meanwhile, states at the bottom of the ranking charge as much as 7%.

California continued to rank very highly for this final factor, with a feminine hygiene product tax of 0%. However, this is only a recent change – until June 2019, the state levied a tax of 7.25%, which would have left in last place.

Despite only coming 1st for one factor, Maryland’s consistently high rankings allowed it to finish in 1st place overall. It scored very highly for various factors, including female annual earnings, gender pay gap size and proportion of women-owned firms.

Meanwhile, California found itself ranking in 2nd place. The state was originally set to be in 6th, but it was saved by its recent feminine hygiene product tax exemption, giving it the points it needed to beat New York, Oregon and Connecticut. Aside from this, the state also offers the highest level of benefits to new and expecting mothers, has the smallest gender pay gap, and has the 2nd fastest decreasing gender pay gap.

3rd place was taken by New York. Although the state managed to stay in the top half of every single ranking table, it wasn’t able to build quite as high a score as Maryland or California.

Elsewhere in the rankings, Wyoming finished in 36th – however, we were a little surprised that it wasn’t lower. The state didn’t score any points in two of the factors and did very poorly in two others. It looks like it was saved by its high proportion of women-owned firms and its relatively low feminine hygiene product tax.

In the end, West Virginia was the state that took last place. It proved to be alarmingly consistent: the state came 46th for half of the factors in this study. Mississippi did nearly as badly, thanks in no small part to its bottom ranking for average annual earnings and maternity leave provisions. It was only saved from 50th place by its relatively high proportion of women-owned firms.

If you’d like to see the full data from this study, as well as our sources, click here.

Do you think our results are an accurate reflection of the level of equality in the different US states? Let us know in the comment section below.

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