Women’s rights in the U.S. have made leaps and bounds since the passage of the 19th Amendment, yet many women still struggle to break the glass ceiling because of unequal treatment in society. Unfortunately, the gender gap in 21st century America has only expanded. In 2021, the U.S. failed to place in the top 10 — or even the top 25 — of the World Economic Forum’s ranking of 156 countries based on gender equality. The U.S. ranked 30th, which is better than last year’s rank of 53rd.
The workplace provides even more evidence of inequality. Despite their advances toward social equality, women are disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions. Women make up more than 50 percent of the population, but constitute only around 27% of legislators and 25 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
Women also faced inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women were initially laid off at a greater rate than men and re-employed more slowly. Luckily, the gap has begun to close – for example, more than half of job gains in May went to women, and the June unemployment rate for women was 5.5%, compared to 5.9% for men.
To determine where women receive the most equal treatment, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 17 key indicators of gender equality. Our data set ranges from the gap between female and male executives to the disparity in unemployment rates for women and men.
Best States for Women’s Rights
Education & Health
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
As the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in women’s equality, we asked a panel of experts to shed light on the reasons behind the country’s disappointing performance in closing its gender gap. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- The U.S. currently ranks 87th globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?
- The U.S. currently ranks 37th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the U.S. can learn from other countries to help close this gap?
- What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?
- What policies would prove effective at increasing female representation in senior management roles in the Fortune 500 and other large, multinational corporations?
Ask the Experts
To determine where women receive the most equal treatment in the U.S., WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key dimensions: 1) Workplace Environment, 2) Education & Health and 3) Political Empowerment.
We evaluated those dimensions using 17 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for women’s equality. For all metrics, we compared the differences between women and men. In certain states and for certain metrics where women showed an advantage over men, we treated the state as having gender equality.
Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Workplace Environment – Total Points: 40.00
- Income Disparity: Triple Weight (~12.63 Points)
Note: “Income” refers to median weekly earnings.
- Higher-Income Disparity: Full Weight (~4.21 Points)
Note: “Higher Income” refers to median annual earnings of $100,000 or more.
- Disparity in Share of Executive Positions: Full Weight (~4.21 Points)
- Disparity in Share of Minimum-Wage Workers: Half Weight (~2.11 Points)
- Unemployment-Rate Disparity: Full Weight (~4.21 Points)
- Entrepreneurship-Rate Disparity: Full Weight (~4.21 Points)
- Disparity in Average Number of Work Hours: Half Weight (~2.11 Points)
Note: “Average Number of Work Hours” pertains to full-time workers.
- Job Security Disparity: Half Weight (~2.11 Points)
- Economic Security Disparity: Half Weight (~2.11 Points)
Note: This metric is based on the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) Index, which measures how much income working adults of different family types need to be economically secure. Economic security means having “enough income to meet basic monthly expenses—such as housing, food, transportation and child care expenses—and save for emergencies and retirement.”
- Disparity in Poverty Rate: Half Weight (~2.11 Points)
Education & Health – Total Points: 40.00
- Disparity in Advanced Educational Attainment: Full Weight (~13.33 Points)
Note: “Advanced Educational Attainment” refers to the share of the population aged 25 and older with an advanced degree (higher than a bachelor’s degree).
- Disparity in Math Test Scores: Full Weight (~13.33 Points)
- Disparity in Doctor-Visit Affordability: Full Weight (~13.33 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of adults who could not afford a doctor’s visit in the past year due to costs.
Political Empowerment – Total Points: 20.00
- Disparity in Share of Lawmakers in U.S. Senate: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Disparity in Share of Lawmakers in U.S. House of Representatives: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Disparity in Share of Lawmakers in State Legislature: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Disparity in Share of State-Elected Executives: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Women's Law Center, Institute for Women's Policy Research, National Center for Education Statistics, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and Center for American Women and Politics.