Susan R. Madsen: Ranking the best and worst states for women

Improving women’s economic and social well-being helps families, workplaces and society at large.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Erin Preston, dressed as her great, great grandmother, Lucy Augusta Rice Clark who she says was the first woman to vote in a Republican National Convention joins the rally on Women’s Equality Day at the Capitol on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, to encourage Utah to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

In the state of Utah, we typically talk about WalletHub’s “Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality.” As most people know, we are ranked dead last (50th of 50) — eight years running — on this set of metrics. This is definitely not something to brag about. In fact, the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) has created a set of dashboards focused on their 17 metrics so we can track progress.

I was fascinated to learn that WalletHub has another ranking that was recently released titled “2023′s Best & Worst States for Women” that does rank us higher — 37th of 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Not awesome, but at least in the middle of the pack.

Out of 100 possible points, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Connecticut and the District of Columbia all have over 70 points and are at the top, while Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia are ranked as the worst states — all below 40 points.

Utah has 47.73 points.

So what’s the difference in these two rankings, and why are we doing better in the broader category of “Women” versus “Women’s Equality?”

For this ranking, WalletHub categorizes their findings into two main categories, women’s economic and social well-being, and women’s health care and safety, with a total of 25 key indicators that are each weighted differently. They pull their data from a variety of sources that range from the U.S. Census Bureau to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Education Statistics and the Violence Policy Center.

Although not published in their report, I was able to obtain more detailed data directly from WalletHub. Let me share what I found.

Women’s Economic & Social Well-Being

First, Utah currently ranks 43rd for the “Women’s Economic & Social Well-Being” category. I have included the state rankings for each indicator within this category below (1=Best State and 51=Worst State).

  • Median Earnings for Female Workers: 48

  • Unemployment Rate for Women: 1

  • Job Security for Women: 41

  • Share of Women Living in Poverty: 2

  • Unaffordability of Doctor’s Visit: 40

  • Share of Women-Owned Businesses: 48

  • “Economic Clout” of Women-Owned Firms Rank: 2

  • High School Graduation Rate for Women: 32

  • Friendliness Toward Working Moms: 24

  • Friendliness Toward Women’s Equality: 50

  • Share of Women Who Voted in the 2020 Presidential Election: 33

Women’s Health Care & Safety

Secondly, Utah ranks 25th in “Women’s Health Care & Safety,” which comes from the sum of the following indicators, including our rankings (1 = Best State and 51 = Worst State):

  • Abortion Policies & Access: 26

  • Quality of Women’s Hospitals: 42

  • Share of Women Ages 18-44 Who Reported Having One or More People They Think of as Their Personal Doctor or Health Care Provider: 26

  • Female Uninsured Rate: 34

  • Share of Women with Good or Better Health: 12

  • Women’s Preventive Health Care: 49

  • Share of Physically Active Women: 5

  • Share of Women Who Are Obese: 17

  • Baby-Friendliness: 10

  • Depression Rate for Women: 49

  • Suicide Rate for Women: 39

  • Women’s Life Expectancy at Birth: 17

  • Female Homicide Rate: 9

  • Prevalence of Rape Victimization Among Women: 43

Utah is doing well in some areas, with low unemployment rates, less women living in poverty than most states, lower homicide rates, economic clout of women-owned firms and more physically active women. However, the ones I am particularly concerned about right now include Utah’s prevalence of rape victimization among women (learn more), the gender pay gap (learn more), friendliness toward women’s equality (learn more), women’s preventive health care, depression rate for women and suicide rate (learn more). There is much more work to be done.

Of course, these rankings only give us certain puzzle pieces in helping us better understand the status of women in Utah. And it can be easy to be dismissive of reports like this that don’t show the “whole picture.” But the more data and information we have allows us to be more strategic in finding ways to ensure that all Utahns can thrive.

The research is clear: improving women’s economic and social well-being, along with women’s health care and safety, helps families, workplaces and society at large. Helping women helps Utah.

Susan R. Madsen

Susan R. Madsen, Ed.D., is the inaugural Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership & Director, Utah Women & Leadership Project, Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Utah State University.