The U.S. could elect the first female president in its history this November. For many advocates, representation in the nation’s highest office could lead to meaningful progress for women’s rights, potentially addressing some of the severe inequalities the nation has yet to overcome.
These issues include a gender pay gap, a lack of flexibility in the workplace during pregnancy and early motherhood, and, indeed, a lack of women holding positions of political influence. While no state has achieved gender pay equality, a number have made substantial progress in closing the earnings gap and in other areas, like electing women to office, funding pre-K programs, and passing laws that allow women to stay in the workforce when they have children, should they so choose.
On the other hand, a number of states remain extremely unfavorable to women in every major category. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed and ranked the 50 states based on their favorability to women.
> Female earnings as pct. of male: 78.9% (25th highest)
> Pct. mgmt. jobs held by women: 37.9% (11th lowest)
> Pct. 3-4 yr. olds enrolled in state pre-K: 27.6% (9th highest)
> Pct. legislative seats held by women: 19.9% (14th lowest)
Female representation in political office can be instrumental in advancing issues of gender equality. In Texas, however, only 7.9% of the state’s congressional representation is female, and less than one in four members of the state legislature are women.
On the other hand, Texas is one of just seven states to have had more than one female governor in its history. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, elected in November 1924, was the first in the state, and one of the first female governors in the nation.
Perhaps the most egregious component of gender inequality in the U.S. is the wage gap. Though the severity of the wage gap varies by state, nationwide, the typical woman working full time earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. No state has a larger gap than Wyoming, however, where women earn roughly 64 cents for every dollar. With lower incomes, women are also far more likely to live in poverty than men.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Julie Anderson, a research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, explained why the wage gap exists. According to Anderson, “the largest contributor to the wage gap is occupational segregation.” Men are more likely to be hired in higher paying, managerial roles than women. Though the share ranges from state to state, nationwide, fewer than 40% of management positions are held by women.
According to Anderson, women are also far more likely than men to work in low wage, part-time jobs. Since the wage gap only measures the incomes of men and women working full time, the problem is even more pronounced than the data indicates.
Maternity, Anderson explained, can lead to lower overall incomes for women, particularly as raising a child can often lead women to exit the workforce for good. “If a family has to choose between someone being fully engaged in work and someone being a caregiver, the logical choice is the one who earns less will be the one to back off, and in most cases that will be the woman in the family.”
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, allow women to use sick days to cover pre- and post-natal care, and, in some cases, mandate paid leave for both mothers and fathers.
Another state policy that has shown to be advantageous to young mothers is a taxpayer-funded pre-Kindergarten program. Besides being instrumental in childhood development, pre-K programs give parents the opportunity to leave their children somewhere safe during the day.
Anderson explained that as mothers are more often tasked with the responsibility of watching young children, this means women avoid the expenses of private daycare, and also will have an easier time returning to the workforce. Eight 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 women comprise an average of less than 25% of state legislatures. According to Anderson, this is problematic both because it may discourage women from running for elected office and because male politicians are less likely to implement reform related to gender equality. Anderson explained that while women are less likely to run for office, when they do, they tend win at the same rates as men.