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Best and worst states for women in the US

How states compare on employment, earnings, poverty, education, health and wellbeing.

In the early days of America, people made their way West in search of prosperity. But if you’re a woman in 2021 — you may be better off heading East. All but one state in the top 10 best states for women is in the eastern half of the contiguous United States.

Looking at the regions that make up the majority of the best states for women, the Northeast makes up 50% of the list with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

The South makes up 30% of the top 10 — and it’s home to the best state to be a woman in the US. Meanwhile, the Midwest and West only have one entry each with Minnesota and California.

Top 10 States for women in the US

But which rank does each state take? To find out, Finder scored each state based on a number of factors, including metrics related to employment, earnings, poverty, education, health and wellbeing . Taking the top spot: The Free State.

1. Maryland
Maryland takes the number one position overall, posting strong scores across the board. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 1st
  • Poverty and education: 7th
  • Health and wellbeing: 3rd

The Free State earns the top spot with a Finder score of 79.2 out of 100. For context, Louisiana — the lowest ranking state — scores a 19.

2. Massachusetts
The Bay State comes in just a touch behind Maryland’s overall ranking, scoring an impressive 76. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 7th
  • Poverty and education: 2nd
  • Health and wellbeing: 6th

3. Minnesota
The Midwest’s only entry on the top 10 is Minnesota. But it takes the bronze medal, coming in a fraction behind Massachusetts with an overall score of 75.7. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 4th
  • Poverty and education: 1st
  • Health and wellbeing: 7th

4. California
Missing out on a podium finish is the West’s single entry into the top 10 — California. It comes in with an overall score of 70.7. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 9th
  • Poverty and education: 17th
  • Health and wellbeing: 1st

5. Connecticut
Rounding out the top five, we head back to the Northeast with Connecticut — which has an overall score of 70.6. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 15th
  • Poverty and education: 8th
  • Health and wellbeing: 2nd

Tie — 6. Vermont
Connecticut’s northern neighbor, Vermont, is tied for the number six spot with an overall score of 68.8. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 8th
  • Poverty and education: 6th
  • Health and wellbeing: 15th

Tie — 6. Virginia
Back to the South — Virginia ties for 6th as the best state for women, also scoring 68.8. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 2nd
  • Poverty and education: 12th
  • Health and wellbeing: 16th

Tie — 8. District of Columbia
The District of Columbia ties for the number eight spot in Finder’s list of the best states for women, scoring 68.1. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 10th
  • Poverty and education: 10th
  • Health and wellbeing: 10th

Tie — 8. New Hampshire
The Granite State also shares its rank with the District of Columbia, coming in at the number eight spot with an overall score of 68.1. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 14th
  • Poverty and education: 4th
  • Health and wellbeing: 21st

10. New Jersey
Rounding out the top 10 states for women is New Jersey, with an overall score of 67.4. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 25th
  • Poverty and education: 3rd
  • Health and wellbeing: 11th

Bottom 10 states for women in the US

While the South makes up 30% of the best states in the US for women, it also makes up 90% of the lowest ranking states. New Mexico is the only state outside the South to be on the list of the 10 worst states for women.

1. Louisiana
Louisiana comes in as the worst state for women with an overall score of 19. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 51st
  • Poverty and education: 39th
  • Health and wellbeing: 49th

2. Mississippi
Coming in 50th is Mississippi, with an overall score of 21.3. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 49th
  • Poverty and education: 51st
  • Health and wellbeing: 41st

3. Alabama
Alabama scores 26.2 overall, making it the 3rd worst state for women. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 44th
  • Poverty and education: 46th
  • Health and wellbeing: 48th

4. Arkansas
The Land of Opportunity doesn’t quite live up to its nickname when it comes to women — it comes in as the 4th worst state with an overall score of 26.3. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 30th
  • Poverty and education: 47th
  • Health and wellbeing: 51st

5. Oklahoma
Rounding out the top five worst states for women is Oklahoma, with a score of 26.7. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 42nd
  • Poverty and education: 45th
  • Health and wellbeing: 50th

6. West Virginia
The Mountain State ranks as the 6th worst state for women, scoring 27.6. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 41st
  • Poverty and education: 48th
  • Health and wellbeing: 40th

7. New Mexico
New Mexico has the dubious honor of being the only non-Southern state in the top 10 worst states for women, coming in 7th with an overall score of 29.7. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 34th
  • Poverty and education: 50th
  • Health and wellbeing: 33rd

8. South Carolina
With an overall score of 30, South Carolina comes in as the 8th worst state for women. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 31st
  • Poverty and education: 44th
  • Health and wellbeing: 49th

9. Tennessee
Tennessee takes the penultimate spot, ranking as the 9th worst state for women with an overall score of 32.8. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 50th
  • Poverty and education: 38th
  • Health and wellbeing: 37th

10. Kentucky
Rounding out the 10 worst states is Kentucky with a score of 34.4. In each category it scores:

  • Employment and earnings: 47th
  • Poverty and education: 42nd
  • Health and wellbeing: 25th

Maps of rankings

Table of rankings

Overall rankStateOverall scoreEmployment and earnings rankPoverty and education rankHealth and wellbeing rank
8New Hampshire68.114421
9District of Columbia68.1101010
10New Jersey67.425311
13New York62.512265
21Rhode Island53.3391913
24North Dakota50.8461820
29North Carolina48.1163134
30South Dakota45.8372824
44South Carolina30.0314449
45New Mexico29.7345033
46West Virginia27.6414840

Female financial insights

In addition to breaking down the best and worst states for women, just in time for Women’s History month and International Women’s Day on March 8 we also wanted to share actionable insight and resources. For women in areas where the unemployment rate is particularly high there might be financial options to consider that can keep you afloat.

In regards to our health ranking the female uninsured rate played a role. Historically there has been and is a gender gap in life insurance purchases.

Here is what the experts had to say:

Deanne Butchey headshot
Dr. Deanne Butchey
Florida International University Lecturer, Department of Finance

How does the government help and hinder women and their finances?

Many times women bear the brunt of the burden for raising families. This is even more pronounced in instances when women are single parents. Unfortunately many governmental unemployment assistance programs in the past have been based on percentages of previous income, and since there is notoriously a wage gap for women, their finances may suffer disproportionately. In addition, tax incentives phase out at lower levels when filers are categorized as single, ignoring the fact that single mothers need to earn much more income to become financially secure. In any upcoming stimulus packages, the government seems to be willing to give larger tax credits per child, this may help alleviate the potential for financial hardship that may have been the result of having to repay rent/mortgages that are in arrears, student loans or credit cards balances that have risen because of the pandemic.

Women should ensure they live in safe environments as much as is financially feasible. Since they are also likely to look after their families, they should look for jobs that are relatively close to home, with some flexibility in case they need to take time off to care for a sick child. It takes a ‘village to raise a child’ so another factor should be proximity to family members and others who can provide safe babysitting facilities, always making sure they speak to their children about what is happening behind closed doors.

Maya Beasley headshot
Dr. Maya Beasley
Founder and President of the T10 Group, Director of Diversity 360 at the University of Maryland, College Park

The Gender Wage Gap

In most occupations, especially those that require at least a college degree, women earn substantially less than men. For example, according to 2019 annual averages of the Current Population Survey, women who were general and operations managers – senior or executive level positions – earn only 78 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Similarly, among financial managers, women make 64 percent of their male colleagues’ earnings. If we add race into the mix, the disparity between Black and LatinX women relative to their White male counterparts substantially greater than what we see between White men and White women. These trends hold even when we control for level of education, age, tenure in an organization, and all the other variables those who perpetuate fallacies about the wage gap come up with to try to explain it away.


To determine the best and worst states for women, Finder compared the states and Washington, DC across the broad categories of “Women’s employment and earnings,” “Women’s poverty and education” and “Women’s health and wellbeing.”

We looked at a total of 18 metrics, which were each scored on an index with a score of 100 representing the state with the best conditions for women and 0 representing the state with the worst conditions for women. A score of 50 indicates the average score among all the states and the District of Columbia.

We then determined each state and DC’s average score within each category, which were then used to calculate the overall score for each state and DC.

Employment and earnings

  1. Unemployment rate
  2. Median wage
  3. Gender pay gap
  4. Share of women-owned businesses

Poverty and education

  1. Poverty rate
  2. Percent of working poor women, defined as females that are 16 years and older who worked full time but was still below poverty level
  3. High school graduation rate for women
  4. Percent of females 25 years and older with high school degree or equivalent
  5. Percent of females 25 years and older with bachelor’s degree

Health and wellbeing

  1. Unpaid leave beyond FMLA
  2. Maternal mortality rate
  3. Female uninsured rate
  4. Suicide rate for women
  5. Female homicide rate
  6. Percent of women that are heavy drinkers, defined as more than 7 drinks per week
  7. Depression, defined as having ever had depression
  8. Healthcare access, defined as having seen a doctor within the past year
  9. Healthcare access, defined as not seeing a doctor in the past year because of cost


Susannah Binsted headshot

For all media inquiries, please contact:

Susannah Binsted, Head of Public Relations United States


/in/susannah-binsted-07442743/ /susannahbinsted/

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