Women in North Carolina and the United States overall have made economic progress over the past several decades—they have joined the labor force in increasing numbers, earned higher wages, and increasingly entered into managerial and professional occupations, which tend to be better paying and more likely to provide benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid leave. Despite these gains, wide disparities in the employment and earnings of North Carolina women by race and ethnicity, as well as across different geographic areas in the state, indicate that there is still need for improvement. This report examines the status of women in North Carolina in terms of their employment, earnings, and occupations. The report includes an Employment & Earnings Composite Index comprised of four indicators—women’s median annual earnings, the gender wage ratio, women’s labor force participation rate, and the share of employed women in managerial or professional occupations—that provide a basis to rank and grade each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report explores trends over time in North Carolina and, whenever possible, analyzes data by county and metropolitan area and differences by race and ethnicity.

Key Findings

  • North Carolina receives a grade of C for women’s employment and earnings, which is better than the D the state earned when The Status of Women in the States was published in 2004. North Carolina women’s median annual earnings have risen and the gender wage gap has narrowed. Although a larger share of employed women work in managerial and professional occupations, which generally have higher wages and are more likely to offer employment benefits, the share of women in the labor force has declined.
  • In North Carolina and all states, women working full-time, year-round earn less than men. Median annual earnings for women in North Carolina are $36,400, placing the state 32nd in the nation, compared with $45,000 for men. The gender wage ratio in North Carolina is 80.9 percent, a gap of 19.1 percent.
  • If the median annual earnings of women and men in North Carolina who are employed full-time, year-round continue to change at the rate they did between 1959 and 2015, the gender wage gap in North Carolina will not close until 2060.
  • If working women in North Carolina were paid the same as comparable men—men who are the same age, have the same level of education, work the same number of hours, and have the same urban/rural status—the average earnings increase for women would be $6,628, equivalent to a raise of over 19 percent. Added up across all working women in the state, the increase would amount to $15.6 billion, which equals 3.0 percent of North Carolina’s gross domestic product in 2016. The increase in earnings would reduce the poverty rate among working women by more than half.

This Employment & Earnings report is the first installment in a four-part series of publications on women’s status in North Carolina commissioned by the North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement. These reports describe trends over time and, whenever possible, variations among women by race and ethnicity. The second report focuses on health and wellness; the third on women’s political participation; and the fourth on women’s poverty and opportunity. The series is part of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s Status of Women in the States initiative, which has sought to measure women’s economic, social, and political progress at the state and federal levels since 1996.