These are the best and worst states for women

A new index reveals that opportunities and obstacles for women vary across the United States.

A version of this story will appear in the December 2020 issue of National Geographic.

Employment. Education. Maternal mortality. Political clout. Physical safety. How U.S. women fare in these key aspects of life differs widely across the nation, according to a new benchmark of women’s well-being. The 2020 U.S. Women, Peace and Security Index measures women’s inclusion in society, sense of security, and exposure to discrimination. It shows how the status of women differs from state to state, driven by economic, racial, and ethnic disparities, among other factors.

Massachusetts

Rank: 1

UNITED

STATES

Louisiana

Rank: 51

Range of scores

Best

1

Worst

0

0.71

MA

0.17

LA

No place in the country achieves the best or worst possible score. All six New England states rank in the top 10; the five lowest performing states are located in the South.

WA

24

NH 6

ME

9

ND

20

MT

32

VT 4

MN

12

OR

18

Mass.

Rank: 1

ID

39

NY

8

WI

16

SD

29

MI

21

WY

43

RI 5

CT 2

IA

23

PA 17

NJ 11

NE

19

NV

35

OH

25

IL

13

IN

34

UT

36

DE 22

WV

46

CO

14

VA

26

CA

15

MD 7

KS

26

MO

38

KY

47

NC 32

TN 45

OK

42

DC 3

AZ

31

AR

49

NM

40

SC

44

GA

37

AL

48

MS

50

TX

41

FL

30

AK

28

Louisiana

Rank: 51

HI

10

Alaska, Hawaii, and D.C. not to scale

Range of scores

Best

1

Worst

0

0.17

LA

0.71

MA

No place in the country achieves the best or worst possible score. All six New England states rank in the top 10; the five lowest performing states are located in the South.

WA

24

NH 6

ME

9

ND

20

MT

32

VT 4

MN

12

OR

18

Massachusetts

Rank: 1

ID

39

NY

8

WI

16

SD

29

MI

21

WY

43

RI 5

CT 2

IA

23

PA 17

NJ 11

NE

19

NV

35

OH

25

IL

13

IN

34

UT

36

DE 22

WV

46

CO

14

VA

26

CA

15

MD 7

KS

26

MO

38

KY

47

NC 32

TN 45

OK

42

DC 3

AZ

31

AR

49

NM

40

SC

44

GA

37

AL

48

MS

50

TX

41

AK

28

FL

30

Louisiana

Rank: 51

Alaska, Hawaii, and D.C. not to scale

HI

10

Range of scores

Best

1

Worst

0

0.71

MA

0.17

LA

No place in the country achieves the best or worst possible score. All six New England states rank in the top 10; the five lowest performing states are located in the South.

Created by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, the index evaluates how women are faring in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in three categories—inclusion, justice, and security.

The best and worst performers

across the country

Top ten

Bottom ten

Massachusetts

Connecticut

District of Columbia

Vermont

Rhode Island

New Hampshire

Maryland

New York

Maine

Hawaii

42

43

44

45

46

47

48

49

50

51

Oklahoma

Wyoming

South Carolina

Tennessee

West Virginia

Kentucky

Alabama

Arkansas

Mississippi

Louisiana

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

The best and worst performers across the country

Top ten

Bottom ten

Massachusetts

Connecticut

District of Columbia

Vermont

Rhode Island

New Hampshire

Maryland

New York

Maine

Hawaii

42

43

44

45

46

47

48

49

50

51

Oklahoma

Wyoming

South Carolina

Tennessee

West Virginia

Kentucky

Alabama

Arkansas

Mississippi

Louisiana

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Massachusetts achieved the best score in the country. The state has high rates of college completion and health-care affordability, and low rates of maternal mortality and gun violence. Massachusetts passed recent laws that have helped advance women’s rights, including an updated equal pay law in 2018.

On the other end of the spectrum, Louisiana achieved the worst score. The state scores below the national average in all of the 12 subcategories evaluated by the index, with extremely low performance across measures of justice. Louisiana’s maternal mortality rate is the highest in the country—one that is comparatively higher than the rate in both Brazil and Iran.

Inclusion measures women's participation in economic, social, and political opportunities.

The District of Columbia, Maryland, and Colorado have the best rates of inclusion in the country and receive notably strong scores in employment and educational attainment.

In the United States, women consistently earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, and in fall 2018, the majority of first-time graduate students were women. Despite female gains in academic performance, men continue to be employed at higher rates, and women are still paid less for similar work. For every dollar a white man earns, women earn considerably less, with the amount varying by race and ethnicity: Asian women earn 90 cents; white women, 79 cents; Black women, 62 cents; Native American women, 57 cents; and Hispanic women, 54 cents.

Employment equity can have cascading effects on other aspects of well-being. Women with well-paid jobs may be better prepared to handle unexpected expenses and are more likely to be able to afford preventive health care. Yet across the country, holding a job still doesn’t guarantee one will earn a living wage and women—especially Black and Latina women—are more likely than men to work in low-paying jobs.

Women made up the majority of the college-educated labor force for the first time in 2019.

Employment

Women age 16 and older who work 35 hours or more every week

National average

WV

DC

43

36

57

60

0%

The lifetime wage gap is highest in Louisiana: for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns 68.8 cents.

Nearly 60 percent of Black women in Maryland are employed.

In most states, a higher percentage of women have college degrees than men.

Education

Women age 25 and older who have a bachelor’s degree or higher

WV

DC

22

58

33

60

0%

Less than a fourth of women in Arkansas have a bachelor’s degree.

Washington, D.C., has the highest average employment and educational attainment rates, but massive racial disparities.

Of the female state legislators, only 25 percent are women of color.

Government representation

Seats held by women in both chambers of the state legislature

WV

NV

30

13

52

0%

60

West Virginia made gains recently, electing its first openly transgender politician to office.

Colorado is close to achieving parity: Women hold 46 percent of state legislative seats.

Women are more likely to live in poverty than men.

Working poor

Poverty among women who worked 27 weeks or more in the past year

NH

NM

6

2.4

9.7

0%

10

Maine is one of six states that has a legislated minimum wage above the low-income threshold.

Nearly 10 percent of working women face poverty in New Mexico.

Women made up the majority of the college-educated labor force for the first time in 2019.

Employment

Women age 16 and older who work 35 hours or more every week

National average

WV

DC

43

36

41

49

57

60%

0%

The lifetime wage gap is highest in Louisiana: for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns 68.8 cents.

Nearly 60 percent of Black women in Maryland are employed.

In most states, a higher percentage of women have college degrees than men.

Education

Women age 25 and older who have a bachelor’s degree or higher

WV

DC

33

22

24

58

60%

0%

Less than a fourth of women in Arkansas have a bachelor’s degree.

Washington, D.C., has the highest average employment and educational attainment rates, but massive racial disparities.

Of the female state legislators, only 25 percent are women of color.

Government representation

Seats held by women in both chambers of the state legislature

WV

NV

30

13

46

52

0%

60%

West Virginia made gains recently, electing its first openly transgender politician to office.

Colorado is close to achieving parity: Women hold 46 percent of state legislative seats.

Women are more likely to live in poverty than men.

Working poor

Poverty among women who worked 27 weeks or more in the past year

NH

NM

2.4

4.5

6

9.7

0%

10%

Nearly 10 percent of working women face poverty in New Mexico.

Maine is one of six states that has a legislated minimum wage above the low-income threshold.

Women made up the majority of the college-educated labor force for the first time in 2019.

Employment

Women age 16 and older who work 35 hours or more every week

National average

WV

DC

43

36

41

49

57

60%

0%

The lifetime wage gap is highest in Louisiana: for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns 68.8 cents.

Nearly 60 percent of Black women in Maryland are employed.

In most states, a higher percentage of women have college degrees than men.

Education

Women age 25 and older who have a bachelor’s degree or higher

WV

DC

33

22

24

58

0%

60%

Less than a fourth of women in Arkansas have a bachelor’s degree.

Washington, D.C., has the highest average employment and educational attainment rates, but massive racial disparities.

Of the female state legislators, only 25 percent are women of color.

Government representation

Seats held by women in both chambers of the state legislature

WV

NV

30

13

46

52

0%

60%

Colorado is close to achieving parity: Women hold 46 percent of state legislative seats.

West Virginia made gains recently, electing its first openly transgender politician to office.

Women are more likely to live in poverty than men.

Working poor

Poverty among women who worked 27 weeks or more in the past year

NH

NM

6

2.4

4.5

9.7

0%

10%

Nearly 10 percent of working women face poverty in New Mexico.

Maine is one of six states that has a legislated minimum wage above the low-income threshold.

Justice measures both formal and informal barriers to equality.

In global rankings by the Georgetown Institute that use similar methods to compare the best and worst countries to be a woman, the United States is one of the top 10 countries in the justice category. While women in the United States do not face significant legal discrimination, there are notable differences in state laws. For instance, the state in which one lives affects the level of protection one can receive from sexual harassment at work or from an abusive partner.

Massachusetts receives the best score for justice in the U.S. index, followed closely by New York and Connecticut. All three states hold laws that mandate paid parental leave—a protection that isn’t guaranteed under federal law.

Access to equitable reproductive health-care services is another crucial element for women’s well-being, and maternal mortality rates in the United States reveal stark disparities. Black, Native American, and Alaska Native women are two to three times as likely as white women to die from causes related to or aggravated by pregnancy.

Gaps in national laws leave many women without critical protections.

Legal protection

Number of key laws (out of seven) enacted to protect women’s rights

2.5

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

6 states

1 state

AR, KY, LA, MS, MO, UT

OR

Legal protections in Oregon guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Informal discrimination can also limit women’s opportunities.

Discriminatory norms

Men age 18 and older who say it’s better if women work within the home

TX, OK, AR, LA

NJ, NY, PA

28

15

49

0%

50

Low levels of discriminatory norms signal that these states have made progress toward equality.

In these states, almost half of men believe that men should be the breadwinner while women tend to the home.

Reproductive health-care access varies greatly from state to state.

Reproductive health care

Women living in a county with a clinic that provides abortion services

DC

WY

62

4

100

0%

97 percent of women in California live in a county with an abortion provider.

More than 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.

Maternal mortality

Deaths per 100,000 live births from any cause related to pregnancy

AK

LA

30

12

72

0

80

Montana’s maternal mortality rate for Native American women is almost six times as high as the national average.

In New Jersey the maternal mortality rate among Black women is nearly four times as high as the rate for white women.

Gaps in national laws leave many women without critical protections.

Legal protection

Number of key laws (out of seven) enacted to protect women’s rights

7

2.5

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

1 state

6 states

OR

AR, KY, LA,

MS, MO, UT

Legal protections in Oregon guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Informal discrimination can also limit women’s opportunities.

Discriminatory norms

Men age 18 and older who say it’s better if women work within the home

NJ, NY, PA

TX, OK, AR, LA

28

15

49

0%

50%

Low levels of discriminatory norms signal that these states have made progress toward equality.

In these states, almost half of men believe that men should be the breadwinner while women tend to the home.

Reproductive health-care access varies greatly from state to state.

Reproductive health care

Women living in a county with a clinic that provides abortion services

DC

WY

62

4

97

100

0%

97 percent of women in California live in a county with an abortion provider.

More than 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.

Maternal mortality

Deaths per 100,000 live births from any cause related to pregnancy

AK

LA

30

12

41

46

72

0

80

Montana’s maternal mortality rate for Native American women is almost six times as high as the national average.

In New Jersey the maternal mortality rate among Black women is nearly four times as high as the rate for white women.

Gaps in national laws leave many women without critical protections.

Legal protection

Number of key laws (out of seven) enacted to protect women’s rights

7

2.5

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

1 state

6 states

OR

AR, KY, LA,

MS, MO, UT

Legal protections in Oregon guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Informal discrimination can also limit women’s opportunities.

Discriminatory norms

Men age 18 and older who say it’s better if women work within the home

TX, OK, AR, LA

NJ, NY, PA

28

15

49

0%

50%

Low levels of discriminatory norms signal that these states have made progress toward equality.

In these states, almost half of men believe that men should be the breadwinner while women tend to the home.

Reproductive health-care access varies greatly from state to state.

Reproductive health care

Women living in a county with a clinic that provides abortion services

DC

WY

62

4

97

100

0%

97 percent of women in California live in a county with an abortion provider.

More than 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.

Maternal mortality

Deaths per 100,000 live births from any cause related to pregnancy

AK

LA

30

12

41

46

72

0

80

Montana’s maternal mortality rate for Native American women is almost six times as high as the national average.

In New Jersey the maternal mortality rate among Black women is nearly four times as high as the rate for white women.

Security measures women's sense of safety and exposure to violence in the home, neighborhood, and community.

Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut receive the highest scores for security in the country. In 17 states, less than half of women feel comfortable walking alone within a mile of their community at night. Improvements to lighting, visibility, and public transportation can increase feelings of safety within communities.

Women are more likely to be victims of gun-related homicides committed by an intimate partner. Data on intimate partner violence on the state level are nearly a decade old and are not broken down by race or ethnicity; because of these limitations, the true scope of the problem remains largely unknown.

U.S. women are 21 times as likely to be killed by gun violence than women in other high-income countries.

Gun violence

Deaths per 100,000 women from gun-

related homicides or suicides in the past year

HI, RI, VT

WY

3

0

8.8

10

The risk of death from gun violence is highest for women in Wyoming.

Intimate partner violence has affected nearly 37 percent of U.S. women at some point in their life.

Intimate partner violence

Physically or sexually harmed or stalked in the past year by a partner

RI

SC

7

4.2

10.6

0%

15

The rate of intimate partner violence is less than 5 percent in Idaho and four other states.

South Carolina doesn’t require domestic abusers subject to protective orders to relinquish their firearms.

Access to affordable health care is vital for both physical and mental security.

Health-care affordability

Women who visited a doctor in the past year without financial difficulty

GA

HI

86

79

93

0%

100

North Dakota is one of nine states where at least 90 percent of women can afford health care.

Only 56 percent of women feel safe in their community while walking alone at night.

Community safety

Women age 18 and older who aren’t afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood

ME, NH, RI, CT, MA, VT, IN, MI, IL, OH, WI

AK, CA, OR, WA, HI, MS, TN, AL, KY

56

41

68

80

0%

The seventh best state for inclusion, Alaska is the 10th worst in security. It has particularly low levels of community safety.

In Rhode Island, a high percentage of women feel safe within their communities; the state also holds the lowest rate of intimate partner violence.

U.S. women are 21 times as likely to be killed by gun violence than women in other high-income countries.

Gun violence

Deaths per 100,000 women from gun-related homicides or suicides in the past year

HI, RI, VT

WY

0

3

8.8

10

The risk of death from gun violence is highest for women in Wyoming.

Intimate partner violence has affected nearly 37 percent of U.S. women at some point in their life.

Intimate partner violence

Physically or sexually harmed or stalked in the past year by a partner

RI

SC

7

4.2

4.6

10.6

0%

15%

The rate of intimate partner violence is less than 5 percent in Idaho and four other states.

South Carolina doesn’t require domestic abusers subject to protective orders to relinquish their firearms.

Access to affordable health care is vital for both physical and mental security.

Health-care affordability

Women who visited a doctor in the past year without financial difficulty

GA

HI

86

79

90

93

0%

100%

North Dakota is one of nine states where at least 90 percent of women can afford health care.

Only 56 percent of women feel safe in their community while walking alone at night.

Community safety

Women age 18 and older who aren’t afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood

AK, CA, OR, WA, HI, MS, TN, AL, KY

ME, NH, RI, CT, MA, VT, IN, MI, IL, OH, WI

56

41

68

0%

80%

The seventh best state for inclusion, Alaska is the 10th worst in security. It has particularly low levels of community safety.

In Rhode Island, a high percentage of women feel safe within their communities; the state also holds the lowest rate of intimate partner violence.

U.S. women are 21 times as likely to be killed by gun violence than women in other high-income countries.

Gun violence

Deaths per 100,000 women from gun-related homicides or suicides in the past year

HI, RI, VT

WY

0

3

8.8

10

The risk of death from gun violence is highest for women in Wyoming.

Intimate partner violence has affected nearly 37 percent of U.S. women at some point in their life.

Intimate partner violence

Physically or sexually harmed or stalked in the past year by a partner

RI

SC

7

4.2

4.6

10.6

0%

15%

The rate of intimate partner violence is less than 5 percent in Idaho and four other states.

South Carolina doesn’t require domestic abusers subject to protective orders to relinquish their firearms.

Access to affordable health care is vital for both physical and mental security.

Health-care affordability

Women who visited a doctor in the past year without financial difficulty

GA

HI

86

79

90

93

0%

100%

North Dakota is one of nine states where at least 90 percent of women can afford health care.

Only 56 percent of women feel safe in their community while walking alone at night.

Community safety

Women age 18 and older who aren’t afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood

AK, CA, OR, WA, HI, MS, TN, AL, KY

ME, NH, RI, CT, MA, VT, IN, MI, IL, OH, WI

56

41

68

0%

80%

In Rhode Island, a high percentage of women feel safe within their communities; the state also holds the lowest rate of intimate partner violence.

The seventh best state for inclusion, Alaska is the 10th worst in security. It has particularly low levels of community safety.

Compared to other countries, the United States receives a high score on the global Women, Peace and Security index, ranking 19th out of 167 countries. Yet a closer look at individual state performance shows that opportunities for women vary from state to state. No place comes close to achieving the best possible score—not even the top performers like Massachusetts, Connecticut, or the District of Columbia—revealing that there is significant room for improvement before true gender equality is achieved.

SOURCES: JENI KLUGMAN, ELENA ORTIZ, TURKAN MUKHTAROVA, JIAQI ZHAO, AND VIDHI GANDOTRA, GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE FOR WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY; INSTITUTE FOR WOMEN’S POLICY RESEARCH