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The best states for women in America, in 11 maps and charts

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) represents progress—women’s political participation is strongest in her state. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Minnesota is the best state for women in America.

That’s according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit that on Wednesday published the final two reports in a sprawling seven-part series exploring how women are faring in the states. The “Status of Women in the States” series, an update on a set of reports from 2004, represents an ambitious attempt to quantify gender inequality in the states—and provide fodder for the national discussion.

“The way politics are structured in the U.S., if you want to make an impact it helps if you have the data,” says Ariane Hegewisch, study director at IWPR. “So the purpose was to pull the data down to the state level at least to help people concerned about addressing gender issues to make their case.”

Each state and the District of Columbia received grades on seven broad topics, derived from dozens of metrics and touching on virtually all aspects of the public and private lives of women, from employment and earnings to economic opportunity to violence and safety to reproductive rights to health to political participation.

[Tennessee just passed one of the nation’s longest abortion waiting periods]

In the end, Hegewisch says, the report found inequities remain.

“As you can still see with the results now, when you look at policy and basic socio-economic indicators, trends are different for women and men and the differences haven’t really diminished very much,” she said. Even among women, racial inequality persists, she added.

In the end, Minnesota rose to the top, along with a handful of states in New England and the West Coast. The states that scored lowest were in the South, with Mississippi and Alabama tying for the title of worst state for women.

The dozen best states were chosen because each appeared in the top 10 in at least one of the seven IWPR reports and none appeared below the midpoint of all states on any of the reports. The six “worst” states were chosen because each qualified in the bottom 10 of at least one report and fell below the midpoint of all states in each report.

[Map: The most distinct cause of death in every state]

Here’s a look at how the states stack up, in each report:

1. The best state for political participation: New Hampshire

Though one of the last, IWPR’s report on political participation is perhaps the most important: a more engaged female electorate means better representation of women’s interests across the spectrum.

After analyzing how women fared in four areas — voter registration and turnout, representation in elected office and institutional resources — IWPR concluded that women in New Hampshire are most politically engaged, earning the state a top score of a B+. New England, the Midwest and the West Coast dominate the rankings, with three states in each region placing among the top 10 overall. Seven of the worst states for women’s political participation are in the South.

There’s good and bad news in the report: political representation has generally improved for women, but they have a long way to go before achieving equality.

A decade ago, women accounted for fewer than 1 in 7 members of Congress. Today, they account for nearly 1 in 5. But, at the rate of progress women have seen since 1960, IWPR estimates that women won’t achieve equal representation in Congress for another 102 years.

Women have yet to achieve 50 percent representation in any state legislature and while six states have female governors, only 36 of the 2,300 governors have ever been women.

2. New York: the best state for women’s work-family balance

The other report released on Wednesday is new to the series: this one tracks how well states allow for a healthy split between work and family life, largely by looking at policies that facilitate such a balance.

“There has been really increased awareness of these issues, of the need to explicitly address the barriers,” Hegewisch says.

In their analysis, New York rose to the top. While it had the highest score, it, California and the District of Columbia each earned Bs. Indiana, Montana and Utah scored lowest, each earning an F. That conclusion is based on four indicators: policies on paid leave, dependent and elder care and child care, as well as the share of parents in the workforce with young children at home.

The report also identified big differences by race. Just 51 percent of working Hispanic women have access to paid sick days, for example, compared to 65 percent of working white or Asian women.

3. Oregon, the best state for reproductive rights

Oregon scored higher than any other in terms of reproductive rights, though it, six other states and the District of Columbia earned A-minuses. Ten states earned Bs, 20 earned Cs, 9 received Ds and four — South Dakota, which ranked last, Nebraska, Kansas and Idaho — flunked on IWPR’s scorecard.

The grades were based on a number of variables, including: access to, funding for and political support for abortion; sex education; and whether a state imposed any of a variety of abortion restrictions.

[Where reproductive rights stand in the states, in 6 maps]

Reproductive rights advanced since 2004 in some ways and retreated in others. Generally, access to infertility treatments has broadened, as has access to abortion providers. (Just barely, though: the share of women living in a county with at least one abortion provider grew in 24 states, but shrank in 22.)

Meanwhile, more states added abortion waiting periods—including Tennessee this week—while the share of pro-choice public officials shrank in more states than it grew.

4. The best state for women to rise above poverty? Maryland

Women fighting to move out of poverty are better off in Maryland than their their peers in any other state, according to IWPR’s analysis of poverty and economic opportunity. The report looked at the share of women who: live above the poverty line; own a business; have health insurance; and earned a bachelor’s degree, we noted when that report was released:

Those four factors were chosen years ago in an effort to “pinpoint how well women are doing in this area,” says Cynthia Hess, the study’s lead author. When combined, the four factors in the report paint a composite picture of social and economic autonomy for women across the states, with women in Maryland beating Massachusetts by a nose.

The variables were chosen years ago by a committee of mostly academic experts assembled by IWPR to identify representative and consistent indicators. Since 2004, the situation for women in the states has improved on two counts and backtracked on two others, we reported:

The share of women with a bachelor’s degree rose 6.9 points to 29.7 percent and the share owning a business grew from 26 to 28.8 percent. At the same time, the share of women living above poverty shrank from 87.9 percent to 85.4 percent and the share of those with health insurance shrank from 82.3 percent to 81.5 percent, though the latest 2013 data omits the impact of Obamacare.

5. Violence and safety

The report on violence and safety is the only one in the series for which IWPR did not calculate a composite score, because state-level data on the relevant issues is limited.

The report focuses on a slew of topics, however, including prevalence of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual assault, stalking, harassment, teen dating violence, gun violence and human trafficking.

As in the other reports, the analysis of violence and safety identified large variation by ethnicity and race. More than half of Native American and multiracial women report experiencing intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime, compared to just 15 percent of Asian women, for example. Similar trends hold for psychological aggression.

The continued prevalence of such violence, along with a number of other factors, underscores the need for further research, the authors of the IWPR report argue:

At a basic level, this requires improving data collection in the area of violence and abuse by ensuring that survey data are available with sufficiently large samples to allow for analysis at the state level and by race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and other contextual factors. Having improved data will allow researchers to pinpoint the needs of various populations and will help advocates, policymakers, and others to strengthen effective institutional, political, and community responses.

6. On health and well-being, women in Minnesota are best off

After looking at a number of variables related to physical and mental health, Minnesota emerged as the top state for women’s health and well-being. The report sheds light on a number of troubling health trends, including a 50-state rise in chlamydia, declining mental health, increased suicide and dramatic racial disparities, as The Post’s Danielle Paquette reported earlier this month:

While certain indicators have generally improved in recent years — national mortality rates from heart disease and breast cancer have dipped, for example — several others show a need for prompt attention, said Cynthia Hess, study director at IWPR.
“Health isn’t something that exists in a vacuum,” said Hess, who used data from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey. “It’s connected to economic security, access to affordable health care, housing quality, access to healthy food and racism.”

The South once again hosted the poorest-performing states, while the best were in the Western, Northeastern or Midwestern U.S.

Only 10 states and D.C. improved their scores from 2004 to 2015, while Alabama and Tennessee saw the biggest losses. Generally, rates of heart disease, lung cancer mortality, female breast cancer mortality and incidence of AIDS improved. But, at the same time, the diabetes rate, incidence of chalmydia, number of poor mental health days per month and suicide mortality rates worsened.

[Six alarming health trends every woman needs to know]  

7. Maryland, the best state for employment and earnings

The first report in the series examined how women fared in each state’s labor force, relying on a series of data to arrive at its conclusion: that women in Maryland are best off when it comes to employment and earnings.

Maryland and Massachusetts each earned a B+ on IWPR’s scorecard (The District of Columbia earned an A), though women are far from equal in either state. In Maryland, women earn 87.4 cents for every dollar earned by men, who are also 1.9 times more likely to work in high-paying Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) jobs.