A demonstrator supporting Harvard University’s admission process grabs a sign that reads “Equality Opportunity Solidarity” during a protest outside of the MBTA Harvard station in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg)

Ranking the U.S. States by Gender Equality

(Bloomberg) -- Vermont was one of the first states to grant women partial voting rights, and nearly 140 years later, it remains a leader in equal opportunity for women. For the third year, the state tops Bloomberg’s annual ranking of the best states for gender parity, followed by Minnesota and Maryland.

Vermont’s high scores in five categories -- median pay ratio by gender, female labor-force participation, college-degree attainment, health coverage and women in poverty -- are related to the state’s progressive gender politics, according to University of Vermont economics professor Stephanie Seguino.

In 2016, the state passed a law requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, legislation that’s considered particularly friendly to working women. Lawmakers are also discussing a parental leave law which would allow dads to take paid time off, a benefit only a handful of states currently confer.

Almost 80 percent of female Vermonters work, and only 4 percent are without health coverage, among the best states in both categories, according to 2017 U.S. Census data. At the other end of the spectrum, 63 percent of the women participate in the labor force in West Virginia (No. 45 overall). In No. 44 Texas, nearly 17 percent lack health insurance.

Ranking the U.S. States by Gender Equality

To access the Bloomberg News 2019 Gender Equality full data set for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, click HERE.

Second to Vermont, Minnesota stood out for high rates of health coverage and low poverty rate. One of Minnesota’s largest employers is the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, an advantage for women, who make up 75 percent of health-care practitioners. Relative to other industries, female workforce participation in the health-care industry is particularly high, according to Iris Bohnet, an economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Ranked third on the gender parity index, Maryland topped a separate 50-state ranking of women on leadership metrics for the fourth year. Washington and Virginia moved up three and nine spots, to round out the top three respectively, this year.

Maryland and Virginia’s proximity to the nation’s capital provides both states with access to a high concentration of educated, well-paid professionals who work and live near D.C. This help explains why they ranked high across the five leadership index metrics: share of female business owners, women in state legislatures, advanced-degree attainment, six-figure compensation and percentage of women executives.

Ranking the U.S. States by Gender Equality

To access the Bloomberg News 2019 Leadership for Women full data set for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, click HERE.

Of course, there are women thriving everywhere. These rankings, based on five metrics each, offer one measure of gender equality. Vermont’s Seguino pointed out that women in the state aren’t exempt from the struggles women face nationwide.

“People think things are fine, but the reality is that things aren’t,” Seguino said. “Single mothers struggle enormously in Vermont. Women continue to experience wage discrimination even within the same occupation.”

Additionally, some metrics used in the index only measure how women are doing relative to men. A state could get high marks for a small gender-pay gap, Bohnet pointed out, but if everyone’s paid poorly -- if equally so -- that’s not good for anyone, male or female.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.