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The Status Of Women: How The U.S. Compares State To State

Women, listen up: Move to D.C.

In some ways that they didn’t use to be, women in America today are now completely equal to men; for instance, in their access to higher education or the voting booth. But on plenty of other measures, women don’t look that equal at all. In fact, in some states, they still look downright discriminated against.

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The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) recently released two reports comparing the “status of women” in different U.S. states. Compiling figures for median annual earnings, the “gender earnings ratio,” workforce participation and the percentage of women working in managerial or professional occupations, it finds that states like Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey are a good deal kinder to females than West Virginia, Idaho, and Louisiana.


Likewise, on measures of poverty and opportunity, Northeastern states generally provide better life chances for women than many Southern states. Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia come out worst in the rankings. The District of Columbia comes out best.

But in no state would you call women equal, at least not according to the stats. Across the country, women still earn 78.3% of what men do and that number has risen only 1.7% in the last 13 years. In some ways, women have been going backwards: fewer women now work (57%) compared to a decade ago, for instance.

The reports find little progress from the last time IWPR studied the question, in 2004. And, based on these trends, it’s not optimistic about the future either. It predicts that America as a whole won’t have pay equality until 2058. And, in some states, it will take a good deal longer than that: Wyoming women won’t be equal until 2159.


The poverty and opportunity index covers health insurance coverage, college education, business ownership, and poverty rates. The share of women getting a bachelor’s degree grew 6.9% from 2004 (in fact, more women than men now gain college degrees), while the percentage owning their businesses rose from 26% to 28.8%.

And yet, superior qualifications didn’t necessarily translate into higher wages. Fully 36.3% of millennial women have bachelor’s degrees, compared with only 28.3% of millennial men. But millennial women have lower earnings in all but one state, and their rates of poverty are consistently lower, as in everywhere.

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We could quibble a little about some of the data choices. For example, the earnings index seems to skew towards full-time work when we know that women are more likely to work part-time than men are. But still, the overall conclusions are stark. Women still aren’t equal and, in some places, they’re still not equal at all.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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