#collegesafety | The State of Women

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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