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Women’s Pay Gap Hasn’t Changed in a Decade & It Might Get Worse

Last Updated: 9/18/2022
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The gender wage gap is a historic obstacle for women in the U.S. workforce. While income inequality is worse in some places than others, the average American woman can expect to earn less than her male counterpart, no matter what industry she chooses to pursue or how hard she works. But one element that could positively impact the gender gap is where a woman decides to live and the accessibility of reproductive health care there, according to MoneyGeek’s study on the wage gap in America.

Using data from the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), MoneyGeek identified a connection between a state's gender wage gap, partisan lean and abortion access. In light of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s crucial to establish that access to abortion is as much about women’s rights to their bodies as it is about pay equality and economic opportunities. Let’s look at the facts:

Key Findings
  • Women earned 83.1% of men’s earnings in 2021; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in Q2 2022, women’s earnings dropped to 82.4% of men’s.
  • Although the wage gap in America has lowered over time, it hasn’t changed significantly in the past two decades. Twenty years ago, women made 77.9% of men’s salaries.
  • States with access to abortion have a smaller pay gap than states where abortion access is restricted or illegal: in Vermont (expanded access), women make 89.6% of men’s earnings, while in Wyoming (restricted access), women earn 65.4% — that’s a 24.2% difference.
  • The wage gap is slightly wider in Republican states, where women make 79.9% of men’s earnings, compared to 83.2% in Democratic states.
  • 14 of the 15 worst states for gender wage gaps are Republican-leaning and have restricted or illegal access to abortion.
  • Restricted or illegal abortion access could lower women’s income in the United States by 6.5% and take women back to 2001 earning levels.

States With the Worst Gender Wage Gaps

For women in America, earning potential doesn’t just depend on their skills and effort. It is also determined by location. While previous MoneyGeek studies identified the cities with the largest gender pay gaps, analyzing the issue from a state level adds another layer of complexity related to partisan lean and access to legal abortions.

With a median income of $40,574, Wyoming is the state with the biggest pay gap between men and women. There, women earn 65.45% of men’s income and have restricted access to abortion. The next worst state is Utah, where women make 69.6% of men’s salaries. Louisiana is third on the list of states with the most significant gender gap at 72.96%. Following closely behind are Mississippi (73.21%) and Idaho (74.7%).

Top 15 States With the Biggest Wage Gaps

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  • State
    Women's Income as % of Men's
    Abortion Laws by State
    State Political Lean
    Annual Difference in Pay
  • 1.
    Wyoming
    65.4%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $21,419.00
  • 2.
    Utah
    69.1%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $18,752.00
  • 3.
    Louisiana
    73.0%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $14,986.00
  • 4.
    Mississippi
    73.2%
    Illegal
    Republican
    $12,542.00
  • 5.
    Idaho
    74.7%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $13,088.00
  • 6.
    Oklahoma
    75.4%
    Illegal
    Republican
    $12,253.00
  • 7.
    Alabama
    75.8%
    Illegal
    Republican
    $12,573.00
  • 8.
    Ohio
    77.7%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $12,353.00
  • 9.
    Kansas
    78.2%
    Protected
    Republican
    $1,145.00
  • 10.
    West Virginia
    78.2%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $10,960.00

How Abortion Access Correlates With Gender Wage Gaps

MoneyGeek’s findings point at a correlation between the wage gap in America and access to abortion. Abortion access is either illegal, restricted or not protected in all but one of the 15 states with the largest gender pay gaps.

In states with expanded abortion access, women’s earnings represent 84.3% of men’s income. By contrast, women’s earnings are only 77.1% of men’s in those states where abortion is illegal.

States with some of the most significant gender gaps saw the overturn of Roe v. Wade as an opportunity to put trigger bans into effect to restrict abortion access or make it illegal, including Wyoming (No.1), Utah (No.2), Louisiana (No.3), Mississippi (No.4), Idaho (No.5) Oklahoma (No.6) and Kentucky (No.13).

Pay Gaps by Abortion Access

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  • Abortion Access Level
    Women's Median Earnings (Full-Time Workers)
    Men's Median Earnings (Full-Time Workers)
    Women's Earnings as Percentage of Men's
    Annual Difference in Pay
  • Expanded
    $51,755.00
    $61,392.50
    84.3%
    $9,638
  • Protected
    $47,131.00
    $57,577.00
    81.9%
    $10,446
  • Not protected
    $50,840.00
    $62,104.00
    81.9%
    $11,264
  • Restricted
    $41,835.50
    $52,478.50
    79.7%
    $10,643
  • Illegal
    $38,467.00
    $49,892.00
    77.1%
    $11,425

How Partisan Lean Correlates With Gender Wage Gaps

What the 10 states with the biggest wage gaps in America have in common is that they are all Republican-leaning. MoneyGeek’s analysis shows a significant difference in the gender pay gap between Democratic and Republican states.

Women in Democratic states earn 83.2% of men’s income; versus 79.9% for women in Republican states. This means that, on average, women in Republican-leaning states earn 3.3% less than those in Democratically-leaning states — a difference of $9,738 per year.

It’s worth noting that four of the 10 states with the smallest wage gaps are Republican-leaning, but in just two of these states — Arizona and New Mexico — abortion is restricted or not protected. This suggests that abortion access has a more significant impact on women’s pay than political leaning.

Gender Wage Gaps by Partisan Lean

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  • State Partisan Lean
    Women's Median Earnings (Full-Time Workers)
    Men's Median Earnings (Full-Time Workers)
    Women's Earnings as Percentage of Men's
    Annual Difference in Pay
  • Democrat
    $51,108.00
    $61,395.00
    83.2%
    $10,287
  • Republican
    $41,370.00
    $51,805.00
    79.9%
    $10,435

Could Post-Roe v. Wade Make Pay Gaps Worse?

In short, yes.

MoneyGeek’s analysis found that changes in states’ abortion policies could result in a 6.5% decrease in women’s average pay nationally. This would lower women’s income to 74% of what men make, putting women’s pay back two decades. This should comes as no surprise, considering the profound effect that an inability to delay pregnancy can have on a woman’s future.

An economic research report conducted by The Brookings Institution found that abortion access profoundly impacts the economic lives of women by determining if — and under what circumstances — they become mothers, which, in turn, impacts women’s educational and labor market outcomes, occupational prestige, labor force participation and lifetime earnings.

In a study conducted by BMC Women’s Health Journal, researchers found that women denied an abortion were also less likely to have aspirational one-year plans than women who were able to obtain an abortion. Such plans included goals related to education, employment and change in residence — all of which have a direct impact on a woman’s earning potential over her lifetime.

Research published by Ohio State University explored how these factors disproportionately impact the lives of women of color; particularly, Black women. While the study found that delaying the age of motherhood seems to have no significant effect on the earnings of white women, a delay of one year for Black women increased their yearly earnings by $1,784, which is a 10 percent increase from the mean.

States with the Smallest Gender Wage Gaps

While the wage gap exists in every state in the U.S., some have smaller gaps than others.

Currently, Vermont leads the way in terms of pay equity. Women’s income in this blue state is 89.6% of men’s earnings, for a monthly difference of $478.75. The second state with the smallest pay gap between men and women is New York, with an income difference of $615.67 per month.

Top 10 States With the Smallest Gender Wage Gaps in the US

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  • State
    Women's Income as % of Men's
    Abortion Laws by State
    State Political Lean
    Annual Difference in Pay
  • 1.
    Vermont
    89.6%
    Expanded Access
    Democrat
    $5,745.00
  • 2.
    New York
    88.4%
    Expanded Access
    Democrat
    $7,388.00
  • 3.
    Nevada
    86.5%
    Protected
    Republican
    $6,857.00
  • 4.
    Alaska
    86.2%
    Protected
    Republican
    $8,627.00
  • 5.
    California
    85.5%
    Expanded Access
    Democrat
    $8,913.00
  • 6.
    Arizona
    85.1%
    Restricted
    Republican
    $7,663.00
  • 7.
    Florida
    84.8%
    Protected
    Republican
    $7,422.00
  • 8.
    Maryland
    84.8%
    Protected
    Democrat
    $10,782.00
  • 9.
    New Mexico
    84.7%
    Not Protected
    Democrat
    $7,503.00
  • 10.
    Colorado
    83.4%
    Protected
    Democrat
    $10,214.00

How to Improve the Wage Gap

The effects of the gender gap reach far beyond the zeros on a woman’s paycheck. They determine one’s access to education, ability to achieve financial independence, quality of life in retirement and the well-being of future generations.

On a national level, it’s important for the federal government to ensure equal pay by setting uniform salary policies, maintaining salary transparency and conducting contractor wage gap audits. To diminish disparity, the government can also take steps to promote access to high-paying occupations for women of all backgrounds.

To reduce historical gender discrimination, states such as Nevada, Maryland, and Oregon have already put salary history bans in place. This could explain, in part, why these states are among the top 15 states with the lowest gender wage gaps in the U.S. To take it a step further, state and local governments could implement fines or put incentives in place to encourage pay equality.

Because businesses determine how much money women make compared to men, they play an important role in bridging the gender gap. By auditing for disparities, correcting salary discrepancies and putting fair hiring practices in place, companies can make strides toward greater equality.

Although wage inequality is still the norm, there are measures women take to close the gap. From moving to states with greater pay equity to voting women into government positions, starting your own business and making investments a priority, there has never been a better time for female financial empowerment.

Within a professional environment, women can also take steps to ensure fair pay:

  • Asking for promotions
  • Negotiating pay increases
  • Making bonuses and stock options part of their compensation packages

Expert Insights

The wage gap between men and women has far-reaching consequences for American society. Our group of experts shared their insights about how the wage gap relates to abortion access and the overturn of Roe v. Wade, as well as steps individuals and policymakers can take to close the gap.

  1. Is there a historic connection between access to abortion and economic opportunity for women?
  2. What effects do you expect to see in the gender wage gap, after the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
  3. How can women compensate for the gender wage gap?
  4. What are the types of policies that could help decrease the gender wage gap?
  5. Does the gender wage gap affect the economy in the long term? If so, how?
  6. What other measures of economic success could become affected by the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
Melissa Williams
Melissa Williams

Associate Professor of Organization & Management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School

Anna Kirkland
Anna Kirkland

Professor of Women's & Gender Studies, University of Michigan

Mieke Meurs
Mieke Meurs

Professor of Economics, American University Washington, D.C.

Methodology

MoneyGeek analyzed data from the American Community Survey from 2020 to explore median wages of full-time workers by gender and by state to identify where wage gaps may be growing between men and women.

We also used data from FiveThirtyEight to find the partisan lean of each state and data from the Guttmacher Institute and Center for Reproductive Rights to identify each state’s rules on abortion access to explore how rulings could impact women’s pay in the future.

Additionally, we utilized data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to report on national earnings differences between men and women, as recently as Q2 2022 and as far back as 2002.

Based on the economists’ projections from an amicus brief sent to the Supreme Court, we used the 11% wage gain projection for women who were able to delay an unplanned start to pregnancy by one year. This equates to an estimated 10% wage decrease, which we applied to states with unprotected, restricted or illegal access to abortion and used to predict how the current wage gap could be affected nationally (6.5% decrease). Limitation: This projection is based on men’s pay staying the same in the next year.

If you have any questions about our findings or methodology, please reach out to Melody Kasulis via email at melody@moneygeek.com.

Full Data Set

The data points presented are defined as follows:

  • Rank: Represents each state’s wage gap ranking, with a lower number indicating a smaller wage gap between male and female earners.
  • Women’s Income as % of Men's: Median income of full-time working women as a percentage of full-time median earnings of men.
  • Abortion Laws by State: Access level to abortion based on current state laws and challenges to restrictions based on research by the Guttmacher Institute and Center for Reproductive Rights.
  • State Political Lean: Partisan lean of each state, as determined by FiveThirtyEight’s score, which measures how a state votes in an election compared to how the country votes overall.
  • Annual Difference in Pay: The annual difference in pay between men and women.
Rank
State
Women's Income as % of Men's
Abortion Laws by State
State Political Lean
Annual Difference in Pay

1

Vermont

89.6%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$5,745.00

2

New York

88.4%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$7,388.00

3

Nevada

86.5%

Protected

Republican

$6,857.00

4

Alaska

86.2%

Protected

Republican

$8,627.00

5

California

85.5%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$8,913.00

6

Arizona

85.1%

Restricted

Republican

$7,663.00

7

Florida

84.8%

Protected

Republican

$7,422.00

8

Maryland

84.8%

Protected

Democrat

$10,782.00

9

New Mexico

84.7%

Not Protected

Democrat

$7,503.00

10

Colorado

83.4%

Protected

Democrat

$10,214.00

11

Minnesota

83.1%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$10,362.00

12

Oregon

82.9%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$9,852.00

13

North Dakota

82.7%

Restricted

Republican

$8,961.00

14

Georgia

82.5%

Restricted

Republican

$9,158.00

15

North Carolina

82.4%

Restricted

Republican

$8,909.00

16

Illinois

81.9%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$11,046.00

17

Virginia

81.9%

Not Protected

Democrat

$11,264.00

18

Delaware

81.9%

Protected

Democrat

$10,446.00

19

Maine

81.7%

Protected

Democrat

$9,480.00

20

South Dakota

81.4%

Illegal

Republican

$9,323.00

21

Texas

81.2%

Restricted

Republican

$9,938.00

22

Montana

80.5%

Protected

Republican

$9,782.00

23

Wisconsin

80.4%

Restricted

Republican

$10,839.00

24

Massachusetts

80.2%

Protected

Democrat

$15,005.00

25

New Jersey

80.2%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$14,181.00

26

Connecticut

80.2%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$13,923.00

27

South Carolina

80.1%

Restricted

Republican

$10,084.00

28

Rhode Island

80.1%

Protected

Democrat

$12,069.00

29

Missouri

79.8%

Illegal

Republican

$10,468.00

30

Iowa

79.7%

Restricted

Republican

$10,643.00

31

Washington

79.7%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$14,095.00

32

Arkansas

79.5%

Illegal

Republican

$9,682.00

33

Pennsylvania

79.3%

Restricted

Republican

$12,252.00

34

Tennessee

79.2%

Restricted

Republican

$10,609.00

35

Hawaii

78.9%

Expanded Access

Democrat

$12,647.00

36

Nebraska

78.9%

Restricted

Republican

$11,166.00

37

Indiana

78.9%

Restricted

Republican

$11,094.00

38

Kentucky

78.6%

Restricted

Republican

$10,848.00

39

New Hampshire

78.6%

Not Protected

Democrat

$14,073.00

40

Michigan

78.4%

Restricted

Republican

$12,362.00

41

West Virginia

78.2%

Restricted

Republican

$10,960.00

42

Kansas

78.2%

Protected

Republican

$11,454.00

43

Ohio

77.7%

Restricted

Republican

$12,353.00

44

Alabama

75.8%

Illegal

Republican

$12,573.00

45

Oklahoma

75.4%

Illegal

Republican

$12,253.00

46

Idaho

74.7%

Restricted

Republican

$13,088.00

47

Mississippi

73.2%

Illegal

Republican

$12,542.00

48

Louisiana

73.0%

Restricted

Republican

$14,986.00

49

Utah

69.1%

Restricted

Republican

$18,752.00

50

Wyoming

65.4%

Restricted

Republican

$21,419.00

About the Author


expert-profile

Lucia Caldera is a writer who specializes in personal finance. Her goal is to create approachable content that sparks financial wellness and unlocks growth. Lucia’s work reflects her passion for financial education as the key to reducing the wealth gap for women and minorities.


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