The Status of Women in the States: 2015 provides critical data to identify areas of progress for women in states across the nation and pinpoint where additional improvements are still needed. It presents hundreds of data points for each state across seven areas that affect women’s lives: political participation, employment and earnings, work and family, poverty and opportunity, reproductive rights, health and well-being, and violence and safety. For each of these topic areas except violence and safety, the report calculates a composite index, ranks the states from best to worst, and assigns a letter grade based on the difference between the state’s performance in that area and goals set by IWPR (e.g., no remaining wage gap or the proportional representation of women in political office). The report also tracks progress over time, covers basic demographic statistics on women, and presents additional data on a range of topics related to women’s status. In addition, it gives an overview of how women from various population groups fare, including women of color, young women, older women, immigrant women, women living with a same-sex partner, and women in labor unions.

This report builds on IWPR’s long-standing work on The Status of Women in the States, a series of data analyses and reports that for nearly 20 years have provided data on women’s status nationally and for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Status of Women in the States reports have three main goals: 1) to analyze and disseminate information about women’s progress in achieving rights and opportunities; 2) to identify and measure the remaining barriers to equality; and 3) to provide baseline measures for monitoring women’s progress. The data presented in these reports can serve as a resource for advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders who seek to develop community investments, programs, and public policies that can lead to positive changes for women and families.

Employment & Earnings

Women’s status in the area of employment and earnings has improved on two indicators since the publication of IWPR’s last national report on the status of women, the 2004 Status of Women in the States, and remained unchanged or declined on two others. Women’s median annual earnings for full-time, year-round work in 2013 ($39,157) were nearly identical to their earnings for similar work in 2002 ($39,108 when adjusted to 2013 dollars). The gender earnings ratio improved during this time from 76.6 to 78.3 percent, narrowing the gender wage gap by 1.7 percentage points, and the share of women working in professional or managerial occupations grew from 33.2 to 39.9 percent. Women’s labor force participation rate, however, declined from 59.6 in 2002 to 57.0 percent in 2014.

Poverty & Opportunity

Women’s status in the area of poverty and opportunity in the United States has improved on two indicators since the publication of IWPR’s 2004 Status of Women in the States report and declined on two others. The share of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased 6.9 percentage points during this time period, from 22.8 to 29.7 percent, and the share of women-owned businesses increased from 26.0 to 28.8 percent. The percent of women living above poverty, however, declined from 87.9 in 2002 to 85.4 in 2013 (IWPR 2004U.S. Department of Commerce 2014a). The percent of women with health insurance in 2013 (81.5) was also slightly lower than in 2002 (82.3 percent), but the 2013 data do not reflect shifts in coverage following the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010.

Work & Family

Women make up almost half of the workforce. Few families have someone who can stay at home to take care of health emergencies, pick children up from school and supervise homework, or take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. In half of all families with children, women are the primary or co-breadwinner1 (IWPR 2015a). Low-income families are particularly likely to have all parents in the labor force (Boushey 2014). Yet, as mothers’ labor force participation has dramatically increased in the past decades (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014) and the number of women and men aged 50 and older who provide care for a parent has tripled during the last 15 years (MetLife 2011), the development of an infrastructure to support workers with family caregiving responsibilities has been largely neglected. Many workers lack access to even the most basic supports such as earned sick days and job-protected paid parental leave. Quality child care is also out of reach for many families because it is not affordable. Women are the large majority of family caregivers, and in the absence of reliable family supports, too many women are forced to make difficult decisions between keeping their jobs and caring for their family members.

Violence & Safety

Over the last few decades, the nation has made considerable progress in addressing the violence and abuse many women experience at the hands of partners, acquaintances, and strangers. Despite this progress, threats to women’s safety continue to profoundly affect their economic security, health, civic engagement, and overall well-being. For many women, experiences with violence and abuse make it difficult to pursue educational opportunities (Riger et al. 2000) and to perform their jobs without interruption (Logan et al. 2007Riger et al 2000). This report examines many of the major topics that advocates in this area have prioritized, including intimate partner violence and abuse, rape and sexual assault, stalking, workplace violence and sexual harassment, teen dating violence and bullying, gun violence, and human trafficking.

Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights—having the ability to decide whether and when to have children—are important to women’s socioeconomic well-being and overall health. Research suggests that being able to make decisions about one’s own reproductive life and the timing of one’s entry into parenthood is associated with greater relationship stability and satisfaction (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy 2008), more work experience among women (Buckles 2008), and increased wages and average career earnings (Miller 2011). In recent years, policies affecting women’s reproductive rights in the United States have substantially changed at both the federal and state levels. Between the publication of the 2004 Status of Women in the States report and this report, states overall made nominal progress on two indicators and declined or stayed the same on five others.

Health & Well-Being

In the United States overall, women’s health status has improved in some areas and declined in others. Women’s mortality rates from heart disease, lung cancer, and breast cancer have decreased since the publication of IWPR’s 2004 Status of Women in the States report, as has the incidence of AIDS among female adolescents and adults. Women’s incidence of chlamydia and diabetes, however, have increased (IWPR 2004; Table 6.1). In addition, the average number of poor mental health days per month, suicide mortality rate, and average number of days per month of limited activities have also gone up for women.

Political Participation

Between 2004 and 2015, the number and share of women in state legislatures and in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives increased, while the number and share of women in statewide elective executive office declined (CAWP 2015aIWPR 2004). Women’s voter registration and turnout also showed signs of both progress and lack of progress: the percentage of women who registered to vote was lower in the 2010/2012 elections than in the 1998/2000 elections, but the percentage of women who went to the polls increased during this period (Table 1.1; IWPR 2004).