Nov. 8, 2012 at 12:54 PM ET
In 2011, men working full-time earned a median income of $48,765. Women earned just $38,373. That difference of more than $10,000 tells only part of the story of the continuing gender wage gap in the U.S. Depending on the industry, men in some states earn as much as $20,000 to $30,000 more a year than women. In some cases, the difference is even greater. Men in corporate managerial positions earn roughly $35,000 more than women working full-time in the same field.
Income inequality is severe in some industries, and there are certain states with concentrations of these businesses. In these states, the gender earnings gap for full-time workers is extremely high. In Wyoming, where there are several of these "pay disparity" occupations, women earned $17,838 less than men in 2011 — the largest disparity among all states. Based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, 24/7 Wall St. identified the worst-paying states for women.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Institute for Women’s Policy Research study director Ariane Hegewisch explained that the biggest reason for the pay gap between men and women in these states came down to where people are employed. While the gap in pay still exists in nearly every occupation, she said, it is much narrower in fields such as health care, education and real estate. Nationally, the income gap for educational services is $7,408, while in real estate it is less than $5,000.
In states where more people are employed in blue-collar work, women are more likely to work in sectors where the pay is much lower than it is for men in blue-collar positions.
Hegewisch explained that in states where more workers are blue collar, men are able to find employment in jobs such as resource collection and construction — positions that are still predominantly male and allow for bonuses and overtime and generally higher pay. In North Dakota, for example, the booming natural gas industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers. In 2011, 90.9 percent of oil, mining and extraction workers in the state were male. Those few women who were employed in that industry earned $46,301 less than men. All five states with the highest proportions of workers in this field are among the 10 with the highest gender wage gap.
In states like North Dakota, women are often found to be working in lower-paying fields, especially retail. While the income gender gap is closer to the national wage gap in this field, at less than $9,000, the fact that a disproportionately large number of women are employed in this field results in a wide income gap statewide. In West Virginia — which has one of the greatest gender wage gaps in the country — the largest employer is Wal-Mart Stores Inc. As of 2011, 54.8 percent of West Virginian retail workers were women, the third-highest proportion in the country. Women working full-time in retail in West Virginia earned a median of just $14,304.
In the states with the largest wage gap between men and women, it is not always the case that full-time income for women is lower than in other states. In five of the 10 states, income for women was among the top 10 in the country. However, in those states, earnings among men were even higher. For example, in Massachusetts, women working full-time earned a median of $47,302, the fourth highest in the country. However, men in the state earned more than $60,000.
The gap in pay in some of these states is even more pronounced in their cities. In five major metropolitan statistical areas, male pay exceeds female pay by at least $20,000. Most of the 10 metro areas with the widest gender pay gap are in the 10 states with the highest pay gaps. In Casper, Wyo., which has the worst pay gap in the country, men earn more than $25,000 more than women.
To identify the states that pay women the least, 24/7 Wall St. compared the median incomes for the past 12 months of both men and women who worked full-time, year-round in each state, based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and released as part of the 2011 American Community Survey report. From the survey, we included in our analysis the proportion of workers in each state employed in each industry, as well as the gender distribution and gender-specific income in each of these industries. We also reviewed 2011 unemployment rates.
Much of Wyoming’s pay gap can be attributed to the jobs available in the state. Wyoming had the highest percentage of people working in occupations involving natural resources, construction and maintenance, as well as agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting and mining. While those jobs, notably in mining and oil production, tend to be male-dominated and higher-paying, the Wyoming Women’s Foundation found pay gaps still persisted in other jobs that are not necessarily male-dominated. The Casper metropolitan area had the largest gap of all 366 metropolitan areas in terms of pay between men and women. The median income for a man working full-time was $25,222 higher than for a woman working full-time.
Alaska’s job market, similar to many other states on the list, has benefited from an oil and gas boom, which tends to pay high wages but is a male-dominated field. Meanwhile, the finance, insurance, real estate and rental properties occupations — fields with a lower pay gap compared to others — comprised a national-low 4 percent of jobs in the state. Including part-time workers, the difference in median income between men and women was higher than any other state, with a $16,474 discrepancy. The National Women's Law Center found that women made up roughly two out of every three minimum wage workers in Alaska. High educational attainment by women did not erase the pay gap. As a whole, Alaskan women with a bachelor’s degree earned less than men with just some college or an associate degree.
More than 8 percent of jobs in Louisiana were in construction, more than any other state, with more than 90 percent of those construction jobs filled by men. Meanwhile, the 10.6 percent of jobs in arts, entertainment, recreation and food services, which generally offer lower pay, were the seventh highest of all states. Women filled more than 55 percent of those jobs. Two Louisiana metropolitan areas were among the 10 areas with the highest wage gap between men and women. Women in the Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux metro area with full-time, year-round jobs earned $20,315 less than men with similar positions, which is the fourth largest wage gap. Women in Lake Charles earned $18,462 less, the 10th largest gap.
In 2011, Utah women with full-time, year-round jobs earned $15,094 less than men in those kinds of positions. But if part-time jobs are included, women earned $16,236 less than men in 2011, a higher pay gap than any state but Alaska. Two metropolitan areas in Utah earned a spot among the 20 metro areas with the highest pay gap between men and women. Women in the Provo-Orem metro area with full-time, year-round positions earned $20,446 less than men in 2011, the third highest gap in the country. Meanwhile, women in the Ogden-Clearfield metro area earned $17,587 less than men, the 13th largest gap.
As of 2011, Washington state had one of the highest proportions of workers in professional, scientific and management positions. Women in those positions earned nearly $22,500 less than men did. In Washington’s Bremerton-Silverdale metropolitan area, women earned $18,650 less than men — the ninth biggest earnings gap among all U.S. metropolitan areas. In the state's professional, scientific and management positions, which account for a high 11.9 percent of all positions in the state, median earning for men exceeded that for women by $22,487. This was nearly $10,000 higher than the national wage gap in this industry.